Sunday, March 27, 2016

Okay, who else keeps one of these in their wallet or a kit? Have you practiced with it? Be honest!  We've all seen them...those little credit card-sized plates of steel with a cutting edge, a cap lifter, can opener, saw, and other tools built into them. But are they any good? In this video, I'll use one to demonstrate making wood shavings & feather sticks, and then make fire using one.

They wouldn't be my first choice for a cutting tool, but in an emergency or in a non-permissive environment, having one inside your wallet might prove very helpful. There are many models out there, some more expensive than others. The TOOLOGIC is a variant that has a plastic case-boy with whistle, compass, etc. and a steel knife that sheathes into the card. It's very nice and can be purchased for around 20 dollars.

Happy hiking!

[Goblin Ranger]

Monday, March 14, 2016

San Diego Mountain Man Rondy prep - Foul weather campout drill

This past weekend, I'd taken time off from work and planned a trip to Fremont Peak State Park for a camp out. Unfortunately, El Nino' had other ideas and decided to dump on Callifornia. I didn't want to waste the fuel to camp Fremont Peak if I could not enjoy the spectacular views, but decided to camp closer to home. Rain was still in the local forecast, though not as much as would be falling on San Benito County up north. Only 1/4" was forecast, so, I decided to make a drill session of sorts and do some wet weather camping at nearby Montana de Oro State Park.
Drill? Drill for what? Well, in a few weeks some of us from Central Coast Bushcraft are planning on attending the Modern Mountain Man Rendezvous being hosted by  Prepare-1, San Diego School of Survival,  and Wingman115.  Not knowing what the weather will be like in April, I thought it wise to get out and test my gear and skills in adverse conditions.
Just the previous day I'd attended a lecture by survival expert Mykel Hawke, and he'd made a point of the importance of training under all conditions. If you only practice in fair weather, you'll be behind the curve when bad weather strikes....think of it as "Stress Inoculation".
 "Train now...don't wait!" - Mykel Hawke 
I headed out to the campground and got a site with a bit of cover from some Willows. I pitched my tent and set up a tarp for a daytime shelter from the rain that was expected:
Montana de Oro Campground
Shelter from the rain
After setting up camp, I set about splitting kindling for the evening cook fire. To this end I'd brought along a new toy, the SOG SPECIALTY "Fasthawk" a small tomahawk with about a 2" cutting edge. A few minutes with this and it went back into the tool box. Might be light, might be portable, but it is too small for any kindling splitting. That tiny edge kept slipping out and the handle ended up doing the work of splitting. 
I'd also brought along "Old Reliable" my Mykel Hawke designed "Hawkchete". With a 23" razor sharp cutting edge, there is not fear of slipping out of the wood being split, and in no time, I had my kindling: 
The Hawkchete can deliver
As I worked about the camp, a family of California Quail hunted bugs in the fresh Spring grass adjacent to my camp, oblivious to my presence:
California Quail
In my next to last most recent blog, I'd discussed those inexpensive '80's style "Survival Knives" with the compass in the pommel. I brought one along which I'd received as a gift from my daughter Kay, and tasked it with carving and notching several tent stakes. I also made a feather stick, and later used the included ferrocerium rod to start my cook fire. This particular knife was a "Rocky Mountain Survival Knife, an AS SEEN ON TV type product:
 Carving tent stakes
Carving a Featherstick
Notching with "Sawback"
I was delighted when the blade remained firm in the handle and showed no signs of loosening. Again, I'm not saying that these knives are a wise choice, but, at the end of the day, it is SKILL that makes the difference. Practice and learn good knife handling skills and you can make any knife work for you. There are definitely better blades available, but if it is all you can afford, or if using one makes you happy, why let that stop you from getting outdoors on the trails? I say go for it!
It began to rain harder, and it occurred to me that my 35 year old dome tent was going to have a hard time coping with the rain, so I used the wooden stakes I'd carved to anchor my tarp over the tent and add another layer of protection"
Layering up
Evening rolled around and it was time to start the cook fire. I began with mixing camp bread and then baked it in the fire ring in my old school Boy Scout pan. I also made up a cup of hot chicken noodle soup. I dipped the camp bread into the cup, and it was HEAVEN on a cold, wet evening...tasted just like chicken and dumplings!
Chicken and dumplin's...sort of...
The warmth was short-lived as I'd forgotten my poncho and my parka was not treated with SCOTCHGUARD and was becoming saturated. I dug through my glove box and scrounged one of those disposable motel room poncho's but it was not much help....too short to cover my pant legs. 
As the fire died I climbed into my tent only to find water had seeped in, probably through the bottom seams, and now there were large puddles on the tent floor. As well, parts of my sleeping bag were wet, as was my pack and some of dry clothing in it.  I salvaged what dry clothing I could and used the wet clothing to mop up the water....GRRRRR!  As I did so, I remembered the words of a U.S. Navy survival trainer I'd met at a seminar several years before, "...there is no such thing as waterproof.....water can find it's way into anything..." Prophetic too, because I'd sealed my hiking boots in a plastic bag and left them outside, confident they'd remain dry. WRONG! They were thoroughly saturated the following morning. Another GRRRR!
Once I got off to sleep, things were not too bad. The bag was warm and dry bivvie sack outer had absorbed most of the water. Only difficulty came later in the morning when the call of nature dictated I leave the tent to pee. THAT is when I learned the boots were soaked, and necessitated removing my clean dry socks then donning wet boots.
The following morning I awoke to thick fog, but could see blue sky beyond and knew it would be a warm day. As I sipped my morning coffee I thought about Iz Turley of Turley Knives and a member of BUSHCRAFT USA. He's done some videos on his YOUTUBE channel in which he has failed at some task, and discusses that failure is part of learning. I pondered what lessons I had learned from the failings of this outing, and here are my thoughts:
1.  Weather forecasts are approximations. Only 1/4" of rainfall had been forecast, but it rained steadily all afternoon and evening...certainly more than 1/4".  Plan for weather extremes, bring appropriate gear, such as a poncho or rain suit. Apply SCOTCHGUARD to clothing. Do as much prep as you can. If you don't need it, great. If you do, you'll be that much further ahead.
2. Check tent seams and apply seam sealer before any wet weather camping outings. Invest in a tent with a bathtub bottom for dedicated wet weather outings.
3. Use plastic bags to seal clothing and other items stored inside your pack that can be compromised by dampness [fire kit].
4. Boots should be brought into the tent at night to keep them dry[er]. Carry a bag to put them in if mud is a concern. I am thinking one of those free grocery shopping bags is the ticket, and will fold down when not in use. A backup pair of boots is wise, if vehicle-borne.
5. Have a large mouth bottle, like a POWERADE bottle for a latrine to avoid leaving your shelter at night to urinate. 
As I started to drive out of the park, I stopped to admire the ocean and beach and the Spooner Ranch house, and realized that in spite of the rain and muck, it had been a fun night and a great opportunity to train.
Spooner Cove, Montana de Oro State Park, CA
 Happy Hiking!
[Goblin Ranger]


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Quarry Trail, Morro Bay State Park [52 HIKE CHALLENGE - Hike #2/52]

This week, for the 52 HIKE CHALLENGE, I decided to take a hike right in my backyard, the Quarry Trail in Morro Bay State Park. This trail is 1.1 miles in length, one way, trail head to end of trail. I started my hike at about 9:35 a.m. The air was cool and it was sunny. We've had a lot of rain over the past 3 days, and the air was fresh and clean. Everything is green and Spring is already here, even though it is still 2 weeks away *Officially* :

Looking towards the Chumash Trail,
Morro Bay State Park
The Quarry Trail is so named because rock used to be mined from this area. There is a large rock pile, remains of the Quarrying operation:

                  The Quarry                                                                      A closer view
One of my hobbies is wildlife observation and tracking. I love spotting tracks and trying to identify them. Yesterday's rains had made for a lot of mud and smooth sections of mud act as "track traps"...places where tracks can be captured when an animal walks through the mud. Following are some of the tracks I observed today:
                                   Possible Raccoon track                                     

Possible Bobcat track
Cat tracks differ from canine [dog] tracks in that cats retract their claws, and their toes are rounder than a dogs which are wedge like or flattened on one side and display toenails. Also, a cat heel pad is shaped like a letter M and a dog's looks like a pyramid. Finally, a cat's impression is round in overall shape, where a dog's print is oval. Compare the dog impression below with the cat impression above and you will see what I mean:
Canine track
One way to tell Coyote tracks apart from domestic dogs out for a walk with their owner...Coyote's tend to walk in a very straight line like the photo below. Domestic dogs tend to wander and stop here and there, making a windy track.

Possible Coyote tracks
Deer are abundant around here and their tracks are common:
Deer impressions
The photo below is a close-up of a Deer track. What we see here is the rear hoof slightly overlapping upon the impression left by where the front hoof had stepped. This is called "Indirect register". Cats and Foxes place their hind foot atop where their front foot had stepped, sometimes so closely they cannot be told apart. This is called "Direct Register". You'll also notice the front hoof is larger than the rear. This is the same for canines and any animal with a large chest/lung area to support.

Tracking stick, 1" increments

I reached the end of the trail about an hour later and was treated to this view of Hollister Peak. Hollister is a volcanic plug, 1,404' in height, and one of a chain of ancient volcanic peaks called The Morro's, or locally known as "The 7 Sisters" . It is named for a family that ranched in the area back in the 1800's. 

As I got to the trails end, I was struck by the green beauty of the Chorro Valley before me, and the rich aroma of the air, filled with the new life of Spring, and warmth of the Sun on my shoulders. It reminded me that every day is a fleeting gift that should not be taken for granted, but lived fully with gratitude.
Happy Hiking!
[Goblin Ranger]

Monday, March 7, 2016

Hollow-handled Sawback "Survival Knives"...are they really that bad?

Recently, a major outdoors magazine ran a short article discussing survival knives. The gist of the article, was that the writer offered his opinion that the stereotypical "Rambo" style survival knife with a saw-back blade and a hollow handle for storing a survival kit was a poor choice and not one he would make.

I kind of take exception to this position. I have both high quality and *cheap* knives and enjoy using both on my outings. And I will readily admit, I like Hollow Handle [HH] knives.  I agree, nothing beats a *quality* knife for camp and trail. You should always buy the best quality gear you can afford, even if you have to save for it. But if you cannot afford better, should that deter you from hiking and adventuring outdoors? I think not.

In presenting his discussion, the writer cited 5 points or reasons why he would not choose such a knife for survival purposes:

1. Hollow-handle, specifically, the lack of strength provided by the short tang required to create storage space in the handle.

2. Uncomfortable Grip, citing the tubular body of the handle.

3. Poor steel used in the construction of economy [cheap] knives.

4. Weird Spines. He's speaking of the saw back.

5. Gizmo's, specifically, the "survival kit" packed in the knife handle.

Now, I have a lot of respect for the writer, whom I will not name. I even own one of his books and refer to it often for information on hunting and gathering. I am not trying to be argumentative, neither am I advocating for hollow-handled knives or promoting them. Simply, I want to present another perspective on the utility of these knives for your consideration. I'll address these critical points in the same order, so here we go:

1. Hollow Handle - Tang joint strength - Admittedly, this is the historic failing in most of these knives. On the other hand, I have seen quality blades snap and fail when tasked for a job they were unsuitable for. MORA knives for example, only have a half or 3/4 tang and are a remarkable knife priced around ten dollars, and can perform remarkably well. They are the epitome of "inexpensive, but not cheap". My point is, any knife can fail and it's wise to learn techniques that lighten the knife's burden like making "small beaver chew" cuts around wood, or bending a sapling and cutting into the stressed bend. Tips and videos for proper knife technique are free and abundant all over the Internet.

2. Uncomfortable grip - I admit a tubular HH knife handle can slip around in the hand. But so can a lot of other handle shapes, dry or wet. It is sometimes useful to wrap or build up a handle using friction tape, cordage, or both. And this provides materials that are useful in a fix. Point is, that uncomfortable grip is easily remedied.

3. Poor steel - Most import "survival" knives use generic 440 stainless steel because it is inexpensive and abundant. Are their better steels available? Sure 1095, A2, D2, everybody has their favorites and each has it's demerits and attributes, but you are not going to find economy knives with these steels and 440 is a good all around performer for most purposes.

4. Weird Spine - Saw back knives are not a new innovation.  In the 19th century, several armies of the world issued saw-backed bayonets for use by Artillery and Engineer units to facilitate  removing limbs and branches in their way. Renown custom knife makers like RANDALL and JIMMY LILE have built knives with this feature. The U.S. Air Force-issued pilot survival knife has a saw back spine, as does the M9 how is that "weird"? The saw back can be useful for notching, but the teeth are usually not set and thus will become stuck in wood once you reach the knife's slab sides, unless it's a saber grind. Still they will usually cut small diameter branches adequately, such as for building a primitive shelter.

5. "Gizmo's" - No doubt about it, the kit supplied in most inexpensive survival knives is of dubious value. They are often composed of a single adhesive Band Aid, a couple of fish hooks, a bit of mono filament fishing line, some lead sinkers, a few matches and a piece of striking paper, and sometimes a needle and some thread. The kit shown here is typical, and came with an HH knife:

Typical "Survival" goodies
I usually change out the "survival kit" and replace it with a few legit storm matches, water purification tabs, and some petroleum cotton balls for fire starting. Knifesmith Iz Turley [TURLEY KNIVES], of whom I am a great fan, did a couple of outstanding videos on HH and saw back knives on YOUTUBE. In his HH knives, Mr. Turley carries a length of drinking straw, water purification tabs, and a zip-loc bag, because potable water is critical in most emergent situations [assuming you can even find water].
Another "gizmo" usually found with these knives is a compass ball, set into the handle cap and held in place by a threaded bezel:
Cap compass
Usually, these compasses work very poorly, and sometimes not at all. Interestingly, this one works surprisingly well and is accurate. I would never rely on a compass such as this for land navigation purposes , and strongly suggest you should have a reliable, quality compass in your trail bag when afield. Still, it can be handy having a second compass available as a backup and also to confirm direction if doubtful.
The HH knife pictured below was a 6 buck purchase from HARBOR FREIGHT and, yes, not long after purchasing it, it broke at the blade/handle juncture while chopping a branch:

Harbor Freight Survival Knife
I repaired it using metal weld epoxy and its doing well so far, but it would not be my first choice for a serious outing, say a multi-day backpacking trip....but then again, who can say when a short day hike might turn into a serious event? And as stated before, ANY knife can fail. If the handle snaps, IMPROVISE...sandwich it between two slabs of wood and tie it together with paracord...not a lot of difference between that and a Neolithic stone knife assembled with sinew/antler handle. It'll work in a pinch.

Since I have an upcoming camping trip at Fremont Peak State Park, I decided planned to field test an HH knife my daughter gave me a couple of years ago. Called a ROCKY MOUNTAIN SURVIVAL KNIFE, its a generic "AS SEEN ON TELEVISION" type product:

Clam-packed knife

Rocky Mountain Survival Knife
It think new they sell for perhaps $16 dollars and come complete with sheath, a signal whistle, ferrocerium rod and striker, and the requisite sharpening stone in a pouch on the body of the sheath.
Extras included with RMSK
There was heavy rain on and off all day, so I spent today indoors putting together kit for my upcoming weekend trip and tuning up the ROCKY MOUNTAIN knife. It took about 2-3 hours on my stones, but the blade took a razor sharp edge [I have the cut finger to prove's a clean slice so it will heal quickly]. The saw teeth were rounded and dull. Seen below, the left side shows the teeth after sharpening, and the original [dull] configuration are the last 3 teeth to the right of photo.

Re-profiling saw back knife teeth
Admittedly, even sharpened, these teeth won't saw anything, but can be used for scoring or notching wood projects. I tested on some tinder and found they work surprisingly well with a ferro rod
Looking inside the plastic handle, it appears the tang is held by nothing more than a fat plug of epoxy:

Epoxied tang inside handle
It won't handle hard use, and might not even last through this trip. We shall see. I'll be taking this knife with me later on this week and will try it out on some simple camp chores. Nothing serious, just me having fun. I'll take some pics to include in a trip report blog post next week.

In closing, I'd like to share a few final thoughts. There is nothing wrong with having a knife professionally sharpened, but you need to be able to sharpen a knife in the field. It's going to dull, and if you can't or won't bother to learn how to sharpen, then perhaps you should find another hobby, so practice!

Having a knife and using it in the field requires that you have a First Aid Kit [FAK]. It is not a question of whether you will ever cut yourself but when you will cut yourself. Not having an FAK in camp or on the trail is dumb, but especially foolish when working with sharp tools like knives and axes. Accidents happen!
Finally, the choice of a knife for a camp and trail tool is a highly personal decision, based on anticipated tasks and your personal experience. It's an evolving process and your choices may change many times over the course of your outdoor experiences. I think anything that gets you outdoors and enjoying nature is a good thing, so if carrying an HH gets you outside and makes you happy, I say do it. Don't worry about what people think....we all do too much of that already.

Happy Hiking!

[Goblin Ranger]

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Mock Venom Extraction Study

As a follow-on to yesterday's day hike Rattlesnake encounter: Had some discussion with friends today about the worth of those pocket Snake Bite kits sold by COGHLAN'S and other outdoor gear companies. Lots of opinions out there.

One friend, a former Medical student, sent me a link to the following article:

CLICK HERE >>>PubMed: "Suction for venomous snakebite: a study of "mock venom" extraction in a human model"

The article describes a scientific test to determine how much venom one might be able to extract.

In the testing, a SAWYER'S extractor was used. It's an easy read and may shed some light on these devices which, may have more psychological value to a patient than actual medical value. At the same time, it is not accurate to say the device does not work. Anyway, you can read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.