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Alfie Aesthetics Backpacking Essentials

Alfie Aesthetics provides a fun tour through his collection of backpacking and wilderness survival essentials. Enjoy!

Western Pack Hiking Backpack

On a whim, I picked up the Wester Pack Hiking Backpack. I first saw it on eBay, but made my purchase on Amazon where it is now sold out. For nearly $40, I expected the pack to be of relatively low quality. I bought the pack with the intention of using it as an emergency bug out bag (BoB). After looking the pack over, I decide to put the pack right to use.

As seen in the attached photo, I loaded the pack down and took it to Mexico. In addition to cramming the pack full, I attached my extra bags, including my laptop bag, to the Western Pack. I was pushing the pack to see if would fail. The pack held strong aside from one seam that gave a few stiches when I attempted to lift the entire overloaded by a tightening strap. I would provide a photo, but the seam doesn’t appear damaged enough to show up in a picture!

While the pack may not be as comfortable as my trusted Osprey, I had no complaints after days of heavy travel. If you’re looking for a spare pack or just to save money on your backpack purchase, I highly recommend this product…. that is, if you can find it. I have seen some outlets raise the price as high as $50, but generally it runs for around $40.

Basecamp X Prometheus Fire Piston

The BCX Prometheus Fire Piston is used to create a super hot ember that will be the foundation for your fire. This is primitive fire making at it’s best and easiest.

Find out more on Base Camp X’s website.

 

 

Multipurpose Items Are the Key to Lightweight Backpacking

Are you trying to figure out how to cram everything into your pack without making it so heavy that you can’t walk more than a few steps? Check out these tips from Mark Crews, the co-owner of Apex Outdoor Gear in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was recently featured in an article in the Outdoors section of the Grand Rapids Press. I think even seasoned, veteran backpackers will find some helpful ideas here.

As you can probably tell from this blog, I tend to be swayed by high-tech, newfangled, lightweight gadgets with some hefty price tags. Mark points out that the most lightweight items aren’t necessarily the most expensive ones – valuable advice that I need to keep in mind. Even those trusty Nalgene water bottles that I throw into my pack without questioning could be replaced with a lighter and virtually no-cost soda bottle.

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I’m not quite ready to take all the advice that he’s doling out (Using a bandana as toilet paper? No thank you!), but his remarks on compression backpacks, stuffsacks, and knives are words of wisdom.

He also takes a balanced approach and recognizes that backpacking is supposed to be fun, and hence it makes sense to bring along a few luxury items, such as chocolate and beef jerky, even if they do add a few ounces to the weight of your pack.

And the one gem of the article? Crew says that when your trek ends, you should “divide items systematically into three categories: always used, never used and sometimes used.” That makes a lot of sense to me, since you can use this info to pack more quickly and easily for your next trip.

Hubba Hubba – The Best Tent Ever

Recently a friend recommended that I check out the MSR Mutha Hubba. “The wha-a-t?” I asked him. He told me it’s the absolute best tent he’s ever used. The cool design intrigued me, so I decided to find out more… and “hubba hubba,” he was right.

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This tent is really easy to set up – and quick, which is a huge advantage when storm clouds are moving in, threatening to drench you and all your gear. It’s great for areas where it rains all the time, because you can easily keep the tent dry. Unlike many other tents, with this one you can set up the fly first, and then put up the tent underneath it, so your tent never gets wet. Most other designs expose your tent to the elements for at least a few minutes, since you normally have to set up the tent first and then pull the protective fly over it. And as anyone who’s ever had to sleep in a mold- or mildew-ridden tent knows, a dry tent makes for a better outdoor experience.

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This tent weighs in at just under seven pounds, yet it has enough room for three people inside. It also has two entrances and two large areas just outside the door once the flap is down. You can use that space to store all the things you’ve brought along, keeping the sleeping area clean and neat.

And if you don’t believe me, note that Backpacker Magazine gave this tent one of its 15 Editor’s Choice Awards in 2006 – valuable testimony if you don’t plan to test all the tents in the marketplace. This one’s a winner.

How Lightweight Can a Sandal Be?

When I go hiking or backpacking in the fall or early spring, my trusty hiking boots are all the footwear I need. But as the warmer summer months approach, I’ve started to think about taking a pair of lightweight sandals along. I want a good water sandal that will let me splash in the streams without cutting my feet on the rocks, and also something that will be comfortable enough to walk around camp in the evening without having to trudge around in heavy boots.

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Most of the water-sport sandals I’ve looked at are too heavy to pass the test when I’m trying to figure out which items deserve a space in my already-overloaded pack. Then I found the Aruba sandal made by Waldies. It has a funky design and is available in twelve different colors. But the best part is that they’re super light, weighing in at only 7.1 ounces for the pair. They’ve got good traction on the bottom and some nubby little pieces on the sole of the food for a gentle massage and stimulation for your circulation. Not bad for $34.95 plus shipping.

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The only downside is that they don’t have a strap around the back of the ankle, so I don’t know how well they’ll stay put if I use them for crossing a stream. But the fit is pretty snug, so as long as I stay away from fast-moving waters, they’ll probably work out pretty well.

And for those urbanpackers out there… this could be a handy alternative for flip-flops when you’re sharing showers at low-budget hostals. A must-have for anyone who’s squeamish about foot fungi.

Just Add Water, then Bon Appetit!

There’s nothing like a long day of hiking to work up an appetite, so it makes sense to put a lot of thought into the types of foods that you’re going to bring along in your pack. Obviously you don’t want something that will weigh you down, but it has to be packed with energy, healthy, and nutritious – and of course it would be nice if it tasted good, too.

Fortunately, many companies make dehydrated foods that are specifically designed for throwing into a pack and enjoying in the great outdoors. If just-add-water instructions make you think of flavorless, mushy instant oatmeal, never fear – the dehydrated foods available these days are a far cry from what they were in the past.

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There are a lot of brands of dehydrated food, so you’ll want to do your own taste-testing to find the one that’s best for you. Personally, I like the ones made by Pack Lite Foods. These are 100% vegetarian meals with decent portion sizes, no preservatives, and great flavor.

Here was my menu on a recent day-long hike:

  • Breakfast: Wilderness Granola with Milk (the milk is already in the bag in powder form – just add water and a handful of fresh berries if they’re growing along the trail)
  • Lunch: South o’ the Border Chili, with lots of high-protein beans, fresh veggies, and just the right kick of spiciness
  • Dinner: Will’s Wild Rice Dinner, chock full of vegetables and cranberries smothered in a creamy sauce

Dehydrated foods can get expensive, with a dinner selling for $4.75, but the feeling of having a full belly at the end of a long day is definitely worth it. And it’s nice to know that you’re giving your body the fuel it needs without all the extra salt and fatty meats that many other brands add to their dehydrated foods.

What about you? Have you found a favorite brand of dehydrated foods? Let everyone know which ones you think taste best and offer the best value.

The Joys of Shared Bathrooms in Hostels

Whenever budget-minded travelers get together, the conversation inevitably turns to hostels and the desperate measures we’ll take to save a few bucks on our travel accommodations. Hostels are great for the pocketbook, but not so wonderful in some other respects.

You know what I’m talking about. You want to save money, so you opt for a hostel that has a shared bathroom, even though the lack of privacy makes you a bit squeamish. When it’s time to take a shower, you have two choices. You can try to get dressed inside the shower stall, even though the clothes always get wet no matter how carefully you shower, either from splashing water or because other lodgers have already soaked every possible surface. The other option is to wrap yourself in a ridiculously small, threadbare towel and run through the hall back to your little room, desperately trying to avoid eye contact with the other guests who are smirking at you.

Of course, there is a better way – use a bathrobe. But a terrycloth bathroom is a bulky, heavy luxury when you’re trying to live out of a single backpack for several weeks or months, so I’ve always done without – until now. I recently found this lightweight travel robe that’s full size, but weighs only one pound and packs down pretty small, perfect for urbanpacking. And it’s made of micro-fleece, so it will keep you cozy, warm, and wrinkle-free.

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And if my testimonial isn’t enough to convince you, note that the Wall Street Journal called it “Best Overall.” Granted, the Wall Street Journal writers are probably using it in the comfort of a private hotel suite instead of a hostel full of peering strangers, but it’s nice to know that they like it nevertheless.

I’m not sure the $69.95 price tag is entirely justified, but I guess it all comes down to just how much you hate getting dressed in shared hostel bathrooms. As for me, I think it’s worth it.

Binoculars That Are Worth a Second Look

I’ve been looking for the perfect pair of binoculars. You know, the perfect pair that will let me zoom in on a fast-moving bird, take in panoramic landscapes, and not weigh a ton. Turns out, there’s no such thing as the perfect pair of binoculars. As with everything else in life, choosing binoculars is an exercise in trade-offs, balancing quality, size, price, and durability. I haven’t made a final decision yet, but here are the ones that have really captured my attention so far.

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This Pentax 8×21 UCF R is a standard, inexpensive pocket binocular that should meet most needs. And at only 7.1 ounzes, it will certainly be easy to carry around.
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Here’s another pair of compact binoculars that would be good for carrying into the great outdoors: the Tasco Essentials 8×21 Binocular. It’s even a little more lightweight than the first one, weighing in at just 6.5 ounces.

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If you’re looking for the ultimate option in terms of portability, the Sun Company 5 in 1 Pocket Binocular is great, because it folds down flat and weighs just 2.3 ounces. In addition to being a pair of binoculars, it is also has an LED light, a magnifying glass, a luminous compass, and a mirror. But with all that multi-tasking, I have to wonder whether it will really perform as well as more traditional binoculars.

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If size, weight, and price were no obstacle, then I’d jump at the chance to buy the ATN Phantom IR Thermal Vision Binocular Thermal Vision Binocular. Of course, at more than $20,000, this is a bit beyond my budget. But just think of all the things you could see and do with this kind of night-vision capability!

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And here’s another one that caught my eye: the ATN Night Shadow-3 Gen 3 5x Magnification, Night Vision Binocular. At “only” $3,000, it seems like a bargain compared to the last one, and it has a cool proximity sensor that turns the night vision on automatically.

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Last but not least, check out the Brunton Echo Pocket Scope Monocular. This is a great tool for espionage, just 3.25″ x 1.25″ and 1.8 ounces.

Sea Otter’s Burning Man Bag

Burning Man Gear

Burning Man Gear

Seaotter22 psoted her core burning man gear. I thought it made a fabulous addition to the “Whats In The Bag” section. Burning Man is a unique event with unique needs. One fundamental component of Burning Man is “radical self reliance.” Here you will find people who want to survive and thrive in a relatively challenging environment. Everything you pack in, you must back out. The event is “leave no trace”, meaning the group leaves absolutely nothing behind. Bring enough to survive, but bring nothing more than you’re willing to take responsibility for. Definitely a go lightweight event. Click the image above to explore all the items in the photo.