Archives for : March2009

A Tent, Jacket, and a Bag All in One

If you’ve ever marveled at how snails, turtles, and various marine species carry their homes on their back in a compact shell, then you’ll definitely appreciate this latest invention in self-sufficiency.


A young designer named Justin Gargasz recently unveiled the Vessel, which is a beautiful, creative, and innovative tent, jacket, and bag all in one.


First and foremost, the Vessel serves as a medium-weight jacket to protect you from the elements on a cool or wet day. The jacket is reversible, so you instantly have a jacket in two colors for those who are more fashion-conscious in their outdoor adventures. As the weather heats up, you can easily convert the jacket into a sling bag where the arms tie around your body so that you can keep your hands free.


But the coolest part of the Vessel is that when you’re ready to retire for the evening, the jacket magically transforms into a cocoon tent just large enough for one person. The body of the tent is mostly opaque, meaning that you can perceive light and hear and smell the great outdoors from within the confines of your cocoon. The door also has a one-inch mesh strip, letting you see what’s happening in the outside world.


Naturally, a tent that can be worn as a jacket will never really compete with a full-sized tent that you can carry on the bottom of your pack, but the designer has something else in mind. Although the tent could be used for camping, Justin recommends using it “whenever one feels the need to escape interactions in their present environment.”


He continues, “Individuals feel the need to escape interactions in their environment every day. Whether it be interactions with excessive technology or other people, this psychological and physical need to get away is where I began my investigation.”


In other words, if you’re traveling through downtown New York and begin to feel overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds, just take off your jacket, convert it into a tent, and you’ll have instant peace and solitude – just kidding, we don’t think that’s really the best use for the Vessel. But we do think you’ll enjoy owning one, considering all the benefits it has to offer for your next backpacking or urbanpacking adventure.


Pants or Shorts? Why Choose?

On these unpredictable spring days, when cloudy skies can just as easily turn into warm weather as torrential downpours, sometimes it’s difficult to know what to wear for outdoor activities. Pants can become uncomfortably warm if the weather heats up, but shorts can leave you shivering if those clouds don’t burn off.


A good pair of zip-off cargo pants are the ultimate solution, especially when they’re made from a durable, water-resistant fabric. From a distance, they look like regular pants, usually in a beige, khaki, or green color. But look a little closer, and you’ll see a covered horizontal zipper that goes all the way around the thigh. With one quick zip, the leg of the pants separates, leaving you in a fine-looking pair of shorts. And, if the shorts have cargo pockets, the pant legs can be folded up and stored in there if you don’t have room in your pack.


Even later in the summer, when the weather is more predictable and you plan to wear shorts, zip-off cargo pants can be a lifesaver if you find yourself traipsing through fields of poison oak or scratchy blackberry vines. Just zip the pant legs back on and protect your skin until it’s safe to zip them back off again.


Zip-off cargo pants pack down better than jeans, and they can be much more comfortable. They’re not quite as warm as jeans, but that can be one of their greatest advantages during the hot summer months. This piece of clothing has become a hot commodity in recent years and you can find it in almost all outdoor stores and sporting-goods retailers, as well as traditional department stores and even Wal-Mart.


I recommend the Helly Hansen Cargo Zip-Off Pant, because it’s made from a comfortable, breatable, water-repellent fabric and comes in a variety of colors. You can find a great deal on them here.

Living in a Dollhouse

If you’re serious about reducing your carbon footprint, one of the best places to start is with your own home. People who live in McMansions use incredible amounts of electricity, natural gas, water, and other resources to make their homes more comfortable.

By shrinking your living space down a bit, you can have a much smaller, more sustainable impact on the environment. You’ll also find that you have more free time to do the things you really love, because you don’t have to work as many hours to pay a large mortgage, and you don’t have to spend nearly as much time cleaning your home.

Of course, some people have taken this to an extreme. The “small house movement” is fully of people who advocate living in teeny tiny homes of sometimes only ten square feet – or less! I’ve been looking into some of these homes, and there are a few that I would consider living in… maybe.

Check out this sweet design being rolled out in Boulder, Colorado

And here’s another one that has some great windows and an ultra-modern feel.

Others seem appropriate only for a monk who has given up all worldly possessions and plans to do nothing but meditate while staring at a blank wall all day. If you want to live in a little white box, this one’s for you!

And here’s the strangest, tiniest one I’ve seen yet: the Organicube.

What do you think? Would you consider living in any of these? The concept is interesting, but I’m not sure I’m ready for downsizing that’s so extreme that it requires choosing between having an extra pair of jeans or an extra plate in case a friend comes over. I guess I prefer to live in a home whose size is somewhere between that of a McMansion and a breadbox.

A Sunny Day for iPhones

How many times have you been at a coffee shop, in the airport, on a plane, or just walking around when your iPhone or iTouch starts flashing a “low battery” warning and there’s no electrical outlet in sight? It happens to me all the time, and since I’m pretty much addicted to the devices, it’s a major problem.

Fortunately, SolLight has come out with a simple and relatively inexpensive solution – solar charging. Now we can harness the power of the sun to make sure that we always have access to the information and entertainment we crave. Plus, the energy is absolutely free and leaves no carbon footprint whatsoever.

The SOLiCharger is a “solar-powered backup/emergency iPod charger.” It’s small and light at just 1.4 ounces, so it’s easy to take wherever you go. Unfortunately, it’s not very fast and needs up to 16 hours (!) of exposure to the sun to reach its maximum charge. That’s enough to charge the iPhone only halfway, but that’s sure better than nothing when your alternative is a dead battery. A 50% charge should last for at least a few hours, and of course you can always charge it again as long as there’s some sunshine to be found. Plus, you can charge your iPhone while you’re using it.

The really nice thing about the SOLiCharger is that it plugs directly into the iPhone or iTouch, so you don’t have to worry about losing or forgetting cables. And it comes in either black or white, so you can get the one that matches your other gadgets.

If you live in a place without much sunshine, or if you need extra battery power at night, you can charge the SOLiCharger from your laptop or desktop computer and use it like a back-up battery, but obviously the main idea is to charge it with sunlight. Fortunately, charging it through an Apple USB cable is faster and takes just under two hours.

Check out the online slideshow for more information and then decide whether you’d like to buy it. SolLight is currently sold out of the $39.95 device, but you can use the company’s website to find retailers near you.

Easier than Rubbing Two Sticks Together

Do you have an emergency-preparedness kit? According to the U.S. government, we should all have a basic emergency-preparedness kit complete with clean drinking water, nonperishable food, a radio, a flashlight, a first aid kit, a whistle, maps, basic tools, and some plastic bags.

But they left out one important thing – something that you can use to build a fire for heat, light and/or cooking.

I don’t know about you, but my outdoor-survival skills are a bit rusty. I’m not sure I could create a fire by rubbing two sticks together, or even with a piece of flint. I think I’d rather have a little book of matches in my kit. Of course, if the matches get wet, then I’ll be out of luck. And a cigarette lighter, although handy, is useless once you’ve used up all the lighter fluid. Something that reliably produces sparks is a much better solution.

Today’s gadget is a great addition to any emergency kit for just this reason. The ToolLogic Firesteel Knife has not only a reliable fire starter, but also a fantastic 3-inch stainless steel blade and an emergency whistle. The sharp blade locks into the black handle, but it can be opened and used with just one hand. There’s a special notch on the blade made of a magnesium alloy that produces a shower of sparks, even when it’s wet. You’ll always be able to produce a fire with this handy tool.

This is a also a great device to take along when you’re out hiking, backpacking, or camping – especially since it weighs less than three ounces. And at just $29.99, it’s definitely an affordable companion for your outdoor adventures – and emergency preparedness.

Sleeping at Your Desk

As the cost of rent skyrockets, many of my friends are living in ever-smaller studio apartments. They cram all their belongings into impossibly tiny spaces where a single room serves as their living room, dining room, bedroom, office, and more. Designers are getting pretty good at making comfortable living areas out of small spaces, but this new design by French designer Florian Jouy goes far beyond anything you’ll find at Ikea.

He has created a desk that turns into…. Voila! A bed! Yes, now you can transform your home office into a bedroom and vice versa.

It’s definitely a cool, innovative design and the bed and desk have very clean, modern lines. He even incorporated a large drawer for storing office supplies or bedding. The sides and top of the desk fold down to form the bed platform, and the three-tiered seat cushions that serve as the desk’s chair can be separated and used as a mattress. The storage section of the desk turns into the headboard.

I applaud Monsieur Jouy for his creativity, but I’m hesitant to run out and buy this when it goes on the market (right now it’s still a design concept that hasn’t hit stores). Let’s think about it…. Isn’t sleeping on a wooden plank about the same as sleeping on a hard floor? Yes, the cushions might help, but it seems like they might move around while you’re lying on top of them. And if those cushions really provide enough padding for sleeping on, aren’t they going to be difficult to sit on while working at the desk?

Those concerns are just speculation, and I’d have to see the real thing before deciding. But my major concern about this piece of furniture relates to how I use a desk. Take a minute and look around your computer – isn’t it surrounded by papers, files, pens, pencils, chargers, a phone, and all sorts of other office supplies? Try as I might, I’m never able to get rid of all the little piles on my desk, and the thought of having to do so each night before bed (or at lease cramming everything onto the smaller storage section) is daunting.

Multipurpose furniture is a great idea, but I think I’d rather keep the bed and desk separate for a while longer, at least until Monsieur Jouy comes out with a new and improved design.

Mountain Biking with the Mountain Monk

I love mountain biking. It’s such a great way to combine nature, adventure, and adrenaline all at the same time. But to be honest, I should admit that I really only enjoy half of the experience – the downhill half. Biking up steep inclines is a major pain in the you-know-what that leaves me winded and exhausted. I’d much rather hike up. The promise of a wind-in-your-hair, full-speed downhill descent is usually worth the effort to bring the bike uphill, but even with that in mind, sometimes I can’t make it all the way without stopping to walk alongside my bike or awkwardly hoisting it into the air as I stumble over rocks and tree branches.

Fortunately, a nifty new contraption called the Bergmönch, or “Mountain Monk” in German, is the perfect solution for mountain bikers who are only interested in the downhill part of the journey. It’s a bicycle (actually more like a scooter) that’s made just for going downhill. True, there aren’t any pedals or gears, but who needs them if you’re flying down a hill at full speed? (Don’t worry, there are brakes!)

The major downside is that, because there aren’t any pedals, the Bergmönch can be used only for going downhill. If you run into even the slightest incline, you’ll need to step off the bike and walk back up until you can cruise downhill again. Nevertheless, on the right mountain terrain, this could be a fantastic piece of equipment.

The Bergmönch and its fully integrated helmet fold up into a handy backpack, leaving space for food, equipment, and everything else you want to pack. At just under 21 pounds, it’s pretty easy to sling it over your shoulders for an uphill hike. Then, once you reach the top, you can unfold and reassemble the bike, take a deep breath, and let the fun begin!

Check out the video where the Moutain Monk himself takes the Bergmönch for a spin, or learn more about it here. Yes, the site’s in German, but the pictures are worth a thousand words.

A word of warning: when you start using your new Bergmönch, you’ll probably get some strange comments from other hikers who are intrigued by your odd-looking backpack, but just treat it as an opportunity to tell them about the joys of hiking uphill and biking downhill. Chances are, they’ll groan with envy and ask to take it for a spin themselves!