Modifying gear is a terrific way to spend an afternoon (or several!), and it allows for a person to tailor their mass produced gear specifically to them. It lets them get a custom feel and performance to their kit without the custom price tag. Some of the most common modifications are fairly simple, and include things like sewing extra webbing to packs, stripping extra webbing off, or sharpening a tool differently than it came from the factory. Further modifications can easily become more involved, requiring more time, tools, and skills. It’s always great fun though, and the rewards are terrific.
I have long been plagued with poor backpacks which have made many hikes and campouts uncomfortable and inconvenient. My large capacity backpack was a woman’s pack from my youth that just barely fit an overnight trip’s load. The shoulder straps pinched my upper back together and the minimal waist belt fell at my navel, making it useless for load bearing. I also used a cheap school-style backpack from a popular clothing store that was fine for light loads, but had poor load-distributing abilities and moved around too much unless it was cinched tight enough to hurt. After collecting a good supply of gear to cover all of my other needs, I came to the conclusion I needed something to carry it all in comfortably. I’m a pack minimalist, so an overnight or two-night load doesn’t really take up too much space. I started my search with large daypacks. I wanted a way to secure loads to the outside of the pack, and I wanted a good suspension system to carry the load comfortably and without a lot of movement. Over the course of several hikes, the wish for a hydration bladder became more cemented in my mind, so that became another search criteria. Naturally, the name CamelBak came to mind since they’re heavily associated with water bladders, so I started browsing their website.
Branching off into new territory for reviews, Woods Monkey got the chance to take a look at a few offerings from Mountain Khakis’ line of products. Today, we start with Simon’s review of MK’s Alpine Utility Shorts.
Editor’s Note: At our recent Practice What You Preach outdoors gathering, we had several different companies send in gear for testing and evaluation by the participants. One of those was Cascade Designs. Doug Ritter of Equipped To Survive coordinated the efforts to obtain items from MSR and Platypus, both of which are divisions of Cascade Designs. We’d like to thank Doug for helping facilitate the acquisition of the different products, and Cascade Designs for sending those items for all of the attendes to use during the week-long outing.
Bivouac bags, or bivies, are somewhat controversial among outdoors-people. Designed for the military, they were originally marketed commercially towards climbers and adventure racers, and they have gained popularity with the bushcraft crowd. The original intention of the bivouac bag was to provide emergency shelter in case of an injury or if it would be unsafe to continue due to inclement weather. They became the ultralight shelter of the light-n-fast crowd, providing protection from the rain in lieu of a more traditional tent. Bushcrafters, often fond of a tarp or primitive natural shelters, found bivouac bags useful to protect their sleeping bag and add some extra warmth in cold conditions.
Headlamps were once odd devices that typically evoked images of dirty coal miners descending into deep mine shafts. They were large and heavy and were powered by large batteries carried on a harness or belt. Modern headlamps are a far cry from their primitive ancestors. The headlamps commonly used by today’s Woods Monkeys are light, small and powerful. Most feature lightweight batteries like AA, AAA, or even button cells. Many also feature lightweight, powerful LED bulbs that will far outlast a normal incandescent bulb. There are several manufacturers of headlamps now that they have become commonplace with backpackers, mountain bikers, cavers, orienteerers, and all other manner of outdoors people.
Kitchen utensils are not often a heavily considered piece of gear in the woods. Packs, knives, guns, cooking vessels, sleeping gear and shelters are all things that are carefully considered and compared, until the perfect one is found. Flatware is one of those things that often slips through the cracks. I am guilty of quickly grabbing a fork and spoon from the tableware set at home before running out the door to head to my destination. Likewise, I’m also guilty of entirely forgetting any sort of eating utensil and needing to fashion chopsticks and serving paddles in the woods. I have a friend that enjoys the woods, and he always keeps a cheap spoon from a diner in his pocket. He often uses it for eating whenever he is away from home.
Since almost a year ago when I started spending nights out in the woods in the cooler months, I realized the need for a layer of insulation between myself and the ground. In the summer, there is not really much need, since the temperatures often dictate that sleeping with much of anything covering you can be uncomfortable. When the nighttime temperatures dip much below 65 degrees Farenheit, there can be a noticeable loss of heat to the ground. I spent a couple of cold nights learning the need for insulation even when the temperatures stayed above 40 degrees Farenheit. After that, beds made from thick evergreen boughs have provided adequate insulation from the ground for my winter escapades. However, the problem with this method is that it requires a supply of boughs (which does not exist in all regions), the time and energy to cut and lay the boughs for a bed, and of course the impact, however small, that this imparts on the environment. Hence, my acquisition of the Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest sleeping pad. Realizing all of these issues, I accumulated enough money to spend on some new gear, and I headed straight for the sleeping area of the local Dick’s Sporting Goods.