Wednesday, April 30, 2014

5-in-1 "Survival Tool"...a useful kit item for dayhikers.

5-in-1 "Survival tools" have been around for many years.  Basically they are a match safe that incorporates several useful tools into it's design. They are usually molded in rescue orange-colored plastic and have a lanyard attached that allows them to be worn around the neck. Generally these tools cost around $4 to $5 dollars.

5-in-1 Survival tool

Besides the match safe function, they also include a whistle on one end and a compass on the cap end. Unscrewing the compass/cap accesses the matches. A ferrocerium rod is embedded in the body of the match safe, and a signalling mirror is located inside the cap beneath the compass.

Signal Mirror
The match safe will hold 30+ waterproof matches when arranged alternately head up/down. I placed jute tinder in mine at both ends to cushion the matches and provide some emergency tinder. Don't forget to include match striking paper, as their is no striking surface on the match safe itself.

The ferro rod is short and difficult to use, but not impossible. Using dryer lint, I found it worked best to wrap the tinder around the body of the tool in direct contact with the ferro rod and striking directly into it. Better still, carry a small tin with petroleum jelly-impregnated cotton balls for a synthetic tinder. Petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls are long burning and will ignite easily with sparks.

Petroleum jelly cotton ball tinder
In experimenting with the 5-in1, I found that the lanyard lock separates too easily, and the tool could become lost. I'd suggest putting a knot in it to prevent loss. Like any tool, practice makes perfect, so I would recommend that you try some fire making using the tool in advance of going outdoors. I did find the ferro rod wears down quickly, so you might not want to practice too much with it, or have 2 and dedicate one for practicing with.  

Also, practice with the signal mirror with a friend. This is easily done by having them stand 50 or 100 yards distant, making a "V" with your Middle and Index fingers, moving the sun's reflection onto the back of your hand, and then sighting the "target" [friend] between your fingers and flashing them with the mirror.

Finally a word of caution: I have seen some cheap copies of 5-in1 tools molded in blue and green plastic for as little as a dollar. Look closely and you will find the ferrocerium rod is missing. Those knockoffs are probably okay for training youngsters, but I'd recommend purchasing a quality one for your personal trail pack, and do make sure to buy one molded in bright orange so it cannot become lost if dropped atop leaf litter in camp.

Happy Hiking!

Goblin Ranger

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rinconada Trail outing and overnight campout

On April 4-5, I went on a solo overnight campout on the Rinconada Trail, about 9 miles east of Santa Margarita, CA. Santa Margarita is one of the oldest communities in this county [San Luis Obispo County, CA]. It started as an "Assistencia" outlying assistance center for Mission San Luis Obispo, which was founded in 1772. Basically, the livestock that fed the Mission were raised there. It's an area of beautiful scenery.

I started out from the trailhead a little after noon, using a FOX TACTICAL rucksack to carry my kit and 3 quarts of water, a load of about 35 pounds total weight. The trail would peak at about 1200' gain and the campsite I planned to use was about 1.6 miles distance. It was a cool day with clouds; good weather for hiking elevation with a heavy load. Here's the view looking east towards back country:

After hiking for about an hour, I came across this cattle gate which was a landmark for the unmapped campsite I was seeking:

Unfortunately, the campsite was located beneath a group of Oak trees on a hill to my right and behind my field of vision, so I walked past it. I walked as far as Hi Mountain Road and realized I'd missed the campsite. I knew I had to turn around and go back. On the return pass, I spotted the fire ring on the hill, partially hidden beneath the trees, as it was now within my field of view; A good lesson to always check behind you! I set up my camp and settled in:

The camp had a very nice fire ring. Unfortunately, high winds and strong gusts made it unsafe to make a campfire, so it was to be a cold camp. I hung my ruck from a limb with a paracord loop and snap carabiner. This is a great way to keep gear off the ground and not have to bend over to access pack pockets:

For supper, I used my MSR Pocket Rocket stove. The fare that evening was buttery mashed potato's with chicken breast chunks mixed in:
Mmmm, hot, tasty, filling and loaded with carbs. The only meal I needed that day and the next morning as well:

After dinner I bagged my trash and suspended it and my food from a high branch in an Oak tree away from camp:
I hung my Tomahawk and Bolo Knife off a broken branch on the old Oak tree next to my campsite, where it was safely off the ground and readily available to me. I made the leather sheaths and wood burned the creeping vine on the `hawk handle myself:
For added grip, I covered the handle of my Bolo knife with suede Buckskin. This knife is a great chopper and will perform many camp tasks well:
I've always been a bit of a Rock hound, and was stunned at the amount of Quartz and other interesting rocks in this area, in which there were Cinnabar [Mercury] mining operations:
It was a beautiful evening as the sun went down:
...and the sunset was to die for:
The wind howled all night long and shook the tent. Fortunately, I'd correctly oriented it toe-end into the wind, thus it remained upright throughout the gale. I had a pleasant [if noisy] evening. The next morning I wasn't hungry and skipped breakfast. As the sun rose, I loaded my pack:
Once the sun was fully up, I started out on the hike back to the trailhead by 8 a.m. It was an equally beautiful morning to be a-trail:
The morning sun was warm and cast a long shadow:

As I descended the trail, the whole Pozo Valley opened up before me:


On the way out, I made it a point to open a plastic bag and gather litter. As always, "Pack it in, pack it out" and if you can, bring a little extra with you. I managed to round up a couple of pounds of beer bottles, aluminum cans, cigarette butts, a hubcap, and other trash. It's a small way we can show our respect for our outdoors and encourage others to do the same by modeling good trail practices:

If you are visiting the area and are interested in hiking this trail, here are the GPS coordinates for the Rinconada trail head:  N35-17.396, W120-28.490. Elevation 1740′.
Happy Hiking!
Goblin Ranger

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The "Common Man's Bushcraft Knife"

Some time ago my wife found a good condition used CASE XX butcher knife at a garage sale for a dollar. These knives are a very old pattern that have been around for a couple of centuries. They were produced in huge numbers and sold to Indians and white men alike for use on the early American Frontier:

CASE XX butcher knife
Usually having a blade of 6" to 8" and anywhere from 3/32" to 1/8" thick, they are most often made of carbon steel and will take a razor sharp edge, making them a perfect blade for common woods tasks such as butchering deer, cutting rope, etc. Usually they have simple, durable wooden scales that are sturdily riveted onto the handle. They will handle all but the worst abuse a tool could be given.

These knives are not, nor were they ever, intended for heavy tasks such as "batoning wood", but they will shave tinder and make "fuzz sticks" easily enough. And I suppose one could make small cuts around a sapling to fell it "Beaver chew" style [something I have seen the noted Primitive skills instructor Cody Lundin do using only a 4" bladed Mora style neck knife].

Indeed, even the famed woods writer, George "Nessmuk" Sears used a modified butcher blade in conjunction with a small double-bit camp hatchet and a large pocketknife. The "Nessmuk Trio" gave him tools for accomplishing any camp task imaginable:

The Nessmuk "Holy Trinity"...Moose folder, Axe, Butcher
Over the years I've seen a lot of these butcher knives carried in sheaths at Mountain Man rondy's I've attended. Most Mountain Men re-enactors wear them in a Crow style sheath. These blades were sold and traded to the Indians for pelts by Fur Company's. Being inexpensive, they were often purchased by the trappers and other members of the Fur Trapping brigades during the American Fur Trade era of the 1820's. Butcher knives and sheaths are often seen in paintings made by Alfred Jacob Miller, a painter who chronicled the Mountain Men during the Fur Trade era. 
Mountain Man sketch by Alfred Jacob Miller
More recently, these knives have become quite popular with bushcrafting practitioners, and have earned the nickname, "Common Man's Bushcraft Knife." I'm not sure, but I think perhaps the term "Common Man" might be an invention of self-reliance and woods craft instructor Dave Canterbury. He certainly uses the term in many of his videos anyway, and even sells these knives and custom sheaths through his online store Self Reliance Outfitters [The Pathfinder School, LLC]. They can usually be found at department stores as well.

Just like MORA knives, these butcher blades offer good quality and utility for very little money, a valuable attribute for those who cannot afford a high dollar production or custom made knife.  A new, quality made butcher knife from ONTARIO [OLD HICKORY] brand rarely costs much more than $11.00 dollars or so from major retailers.

If these knives have a "downside", it is that they are not adequate for heavy tasks like batoning, and secondly, the steel is prone to rust without proper care. If the knife's blade is to be used in conjunction with meal preparation, it should not be treated with petroleum-based oils or greases; rather, use Olive oil, which is also a good treatment for preserving the wooden scales.

For this knife, I used scrap leather to form a simple pouch sheath, which would be attached to the belt by means of a frog. I bought a nice piece of scrap leather for $3.00 at the local leather shop, then cut it to a pattern I'd made out of cardboard. After gluing the sheath I used an ice pick to punch holes and then hand stitched it with a needle and polyester thread. All in all, I probably had about three hours work invested in the sheath. I also made a small sheath to hold my barrel-leg jackknife:

 Belt sheath with frog
After wearing this sheath for awhile, I decided that I didn't like it and re-modeled the sheath into a  Crow pattern sheath. Crow sheaths, named for the Indian tribe, are excellent because they can be carried in a variety of ways. I've included a photograph below. As you can see, the Crow sheath permits any number of carries...forward cant, reverse cant, strong side, support side, middle of back...strong side reverse carry in this instance. If you wear it on a belt over your clothing, you need not remove your belt to re-position it, but simply push it forwards or backwards, out of your way and however you wish to present the handle.

Crow sheath
One final point:  Be VERY careful not to perform a "quick draw" with any knife, lest you cut through the sheath and possibly your own flesh. Generally, you want to get a good grip on the handle and gently tug it, say about half way out of the sheath, to "loosen" the knife. Now you can safely draw the knife the remainder of the way without a sudden, "explosive" release when friction is overcome, and hence, a potential accident. A fast knife draw should only be performed in an emergent situation where speed is an absolute necessity, such as defense from a violent predator.

So in conclusion, if you want a good trail blade and are reluctant or without means to spend a lot of money, consider purchasing a butcher style knife. For less than the price of many other knives, you can easily outfit yourself with a fixed blade knife, a camp axe or hatchet, and a good quality folding pocketknife and enjoy all the benefits of "Nessmuk" Sears' "Holy Trinity" on your own trail adventures.