Thursday, April 27, 2017

Four Keys to Finding the Right Backpack

The backpack has been an essential tool for hikers, campers, students, and travelers for quite some time.  Finding the right backpack can seem daunting with so many sizes, features, and shapes.  Below is what I hope will be some helpful information on selecting the right backpack for you.

As with any gear you plan to strap on, comfort is highest on the priority list.  If your backpack is uncomfortable, doesn’t fit well, rubs in the wrong places, etc, you’re going to have a hard time enjoying your trek.  Some of the primary comfort features you’ll want to look for in any backpack include:
  • Well padded, inflatable, or air-filled shoulder straps to distribute weight evenly
  • Adjustable straps, ensuring your backpack sits comfortably & reduces strain on your back
  • Lower back support, cushion in the lumbar area
  • Contoured and padded backs that follow your lower back’s natural shape
  • To remove weight from your back and shoulders, look for padded hip belts that place more burden on the leg muscles
  • A waist or chest strap to keep the weight centered

Another important element of selection is to determine the activities where you’ll use your pack.  For short hikes, college use, or other short duration activities, a canvas pack should be sufficient.  For trail running, long bike rides, or long hikes in variable weather, a waterproof pack will be necessary.  Some important questions to ask yourself:

  • Will you be hiking, climbing, alpine skiing, trail running, walking around town, or footing it across campus?
  • What kind of materials and utilities will you be carrying around?
  • Will you be walking and carrying the pack for long periods of time, or from place to place with stretches of sitting in between?
  • What weather extremes does the pack need to endure?
  • Does it need to stand upright for easy loading and unloading?

We can’t leave out durability in our quest for a great backpack.  Most backpacks are tossed due to tears in shoulder straps, broken zippers, and stitching malfunctions.  Some of this can be due to overloading the backpack beyond its design.  The rest is due to cheap construction.  A few things to look for in a quality pack:

  • Double stitching
  • Sturdy, ultra-strong nylon materials, such as Ripstop, or at least a 500-denier nylon
  • YKK-grade zippers, self-repairing with sturdy pulls
  • Nylon straps
  • Double-pane, quilted, reinforced, leather, or rubber bottom for longer wear
  • Wipe-clean interior
  • Reflective material for walking across campus at night
  • Dirt-resistant color
  • Lifetime guarantee

Along with durability is how well the pack stores and protects your contents.  Most packs come with multiple compartments.  How many, what they hold, and how well they protect from the elements are important considerations.  Some factors to keep in mind include:

  • Compartments that hold books in place
  • Larger compartments for books
  • Several smaller zip pockets for pencils & calculators
  • Padded compartment for glasses and a hidden zip spot for keys
  • Mesh pouches for water bottles
  • Plastic rack inside the bag can help with weight distribution 
  • Water resistance – You may not need 100% waterproof, but some resistance can protect your belongings
  • Padded compartment for laptops, tablets

A few other considerations while searching to fulfill your backpack needs include the following.

  • Appropriate size. The pack should ride just above the waist.  Anything lower and it will place undue stress on the back
  • Budget – Going with a top name and high quality will save you in the long run.  However, go with as much as you can afford while getting the job done.
  • Style – Are you looking to impress your sorority sisters, or is functionality your most important feature?  Find the right mix for your purpose.

There’s a lot to consider with plenty of options when selecting backpacks.  However, if you figure out your basic needs and stick with comfort, durability, and quality, you should find your perfect match in no time.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Selecting Your Perfect Knife

One of the many childhood rights-of-passage is getting your first pocket knife.  I remember getting my first Old Timer from my Granddad.  I thought I was Davy Crockett reincarnated, ready to head out into the wilderness, eager to learn the ways of the mountain man, and excited to find that first good stick to whittle on just like all the old men down at the local tire shop.  Fantasizing aside, having a dependable, strong knife gives a sense of comfort and confidence unlike anything else you carry on a daily basis.  Choosing the right knife for you, and for your needs can vary; however, there are some fairly straightforward tips for choosing the best everyday knife.  To start, there are two primary types of knives to consider:  fixed blade and folding blade.

Fixed blades are easy to clean, quick to put into action, and have no moving parts to break or gunk up with mud, blood, hair, or other foreign material.  Fixed blade knives are inherently stronger due to the tang, which is the extension of the metal into the handle.  It is simple, elegant, and deadly efficient.  It can be used to cut wood, skin and butcher game, strike fire starters, build shelters, open cans, attach to a pole for a spear, as well as many other tasks.

There are several key features you want to look for in a general use, fixed blade knife.  You want a knife with a full tang or metal that extends the full length of the knife.  Knives with a partial tang are more susceptible to breaking in the handle and are not as sturdy for hammering and chopping wood.
A good survival knife will be around 10 inches long.  This gives enough length to be effective for big cutting jobs and remains small enough for finer cutting tasks around the campsite.

The favored blade for an all-around survival knife is a drop point with a full straight edge.  Depending on your needs and uses, there are several other blade types to choose from.  And anyone who likes having one knife will probably want several.  Along w/ the blade type, look for a knife with a thick, flat top.  This will allow for batoning, or hammering down on the top of the knife to chop wood, and also gives a wide surface for striking a ferro-rod.

Folding blade knives are popular for carrying anywhere (except airports).  They are smaller, making them easier to carry, and larger ones come with pocket clips and sturdy locking mechanisms.  They are designed to be opened with one hand using a thumb stud or blade hole, and many today are designed with an assisted opening device to spring the blade open once it has been started.

Selection of a folding knife, much like a fixed blade, is dependent on your needs and uses.  If most of your use is for opening Amazon packages, cutting through smaller food items, or whittling a whistle out of a tree limb, a smaller one, two, or three blade pocket knife will do the trick.  However, if you intend to use your folder around the campsite for bigger jobs, a heavier, thicker blade folder with pocket clip is what you’ll want.  The drop point blade is still preferred but will depend on what all you will need it for.

Knives are great tools that serve many purposes.  Having a strong knife handy at all times brings a sense of comfort like no other tool I know.  There is no single knife that is perfect for every situation, but hopefully, this is some good starter information to move you towards the knife that best fits your needs.