Smithsonian visit: "Eskimo" gear

Recently Angie and I were visiting her parent's for Thanksgiving. They live near DC, so we took a day-trip up to the Smithsonians and went to the National Museum of the American Indian.

I really enjoyed the main exhibit about the Inca road. I knew a lot about the Inca, but very little about the cultures in that area after the fall of the Incan Empire.

Anyway, I wanted to share some photos of took of some far north American Indian equipment. Unfortunately, I forget exactly which tribes these specific pieces are from, as the museum had it all mixed together. I apologize for the title of my post... I think at least one of these is Yupik, but I'm not certain, and I don't want to label things incorrectly.


This is a parka made out of duck skin. If you look carefully you'll see the feathers are on the outside. This just blew my mind. Duck skin is thin, so it would be very lightweight. The down is all there to keep you warm, with the layer of original feathers over it to keep you dry as well. Water would just roll off this coat. I'd never even heard of using duck-skin like this before. I wish I knew how it was constructed, if anyone can tell me a *probable* construction based on experience with waterfowl skin I'd be very very interested. I've also no idea how pliable or packable it would be, but it really makes me want to try it.


This is a parka made from seal gut. It had never occurred to me to use gut for jacket, but it makes good waterskins so why not? Again, I've no idea of the construction details, in this case it's not obvious whether the gut had been treated in some way or not. Maybe smoked? I don't know. It just looked incredibly lightweight and practical. I'd expect it to be similar in both weight and durability to modern ultralight raincoats.


These are socks made from grass. This is less mind-bending than the earlier pieces if you're familiar with using straw to keep your boots warm or with say redwood bark being used for clothing. I'd never seen plant material socks though, so still thought this was really cool.


As you can guess by the photo these are definitely not from the frozen north. As it says in the display these are Incan sandals. I just really liked the construction and the soles made from plant fiber. They look like they'd actually wear fairly well. I thought I'd throw it in, just 'cause it's interesting.

There is of course a sober note to a museum of this sort as well. They had a large exhibit on the history of the U.S. treaties with American Indian tribes and a rather sad history it is (to put it mildly). 

For me, seeing these pieces made me realize just how fixated on certain ways of doing things I'd gotten. They also had a fishskin jacket, which I'm more familiar with as an idea, but is still pretty interesting. I really got inspired again to keep experimenting and learning, there are so many ways to do things, and so many materials you can use, it's just amazing. I'm really excited to keep pushing on what I can do with more traditional types of gear.


non-synthetic water bottle + carrier

I posted about making some leather gaskets recently http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2017/07/non-synthetic-waterbottle-gaskets.htmlThis worked well enough to be tolerable for some uses, but it still leaked making it annoying for others.

Since them I picked up a new water bottle that I thought would be a lot easier to seal using this type of gasket, a 40oz Kleen Kanteen narrow mouth (and metal cap). So I made a new gasket for it:


I used the same technique as my last gasket, where I cut it much smaller than the actual lid. Then I soaked the gasket in water and stretched it until it fit on to the lid. That done I let it dry most of the way while on the lid.

Just using this technique, it still leaked, so I decided to try something else. I repeated the above process, but with a thicker leather, then I made up a fairly strong mixture of wax in turpentine much like I use for treating canvas http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2017/08/howto-waxing-cotton-2.html. I soaked the gasket in this mixture for a while.


The turpentine smell hasn't fully dissipated, but the end result is good enough I can carry the bottle in a waterproof backpack and find no water in the backpack afterwards, or leave it sitting on it's side on the truck platform next to me while I'm sleeping. I won't argue turpentine is great for you, but it should evaporate and thus not be a problem.

Alright! I finally have a GOOD waterbottle. So, the next step is to figure out how to carry this on my backpack. I've been carrying a bottle on a string slung over my shoulder, and this gets really annoying, especially on rough trails. So, here's what I came up with.


The fabric is from a torn American WWII military tent I picked up... it's a 6 ounce cotton canvas. I sewed a strip of leather in to the top hem to give the lip some stiffness so the waterbottle would slide in easer. Then I sewed a patch of leather to this, with slits cut in it. The stitches across the top were done with a speedy-stitcher, but it was breaking the threads on the canvas, so I switched to using a hand-awl to punch holes and then stitching with a needle and thread for the rest of the patch.

I used the patch to tie the holder to my pack frame. I can push up on the bottom of the bottle, gathering the fabric in my hand to slide the bottle out.


And with a little finagling I can slip it back in by pulling the fabric out just a bit first.


End result: I FINALLY have a way to comfortably carry water comfortably while backpacking without soaking my leg  or using any synethetics! Woot!

Insulated Growlers: not just for beer

After about a year on the road Angie and I decided we really wanted an insulated growler. The original thought was so we could drink cold beer. We wanted something all metal (excepting gasket), and Kleen Kanteen seemed like just about the only option on the market. Finally we bit the bullet and picked this up:


We've had a 1 pint Kleen Kanteen thermos each for some time, and we love them. We use them instead of mugs for drinking tea, and often use them hiking to carry warm drinks. I've found mine to be pretty great for water while skiing as well. We use these every morning (and many other times as well), making them among our most used utensils.

After we got the Growler we suddenly realized we could use it for storing MILK! It will keep something cold for ~48 hours. This means milk will still be tasty for ~72 hours, which is AWESOME. Yes we have tested this, and it works even in warm weather. We both adore milk. If we can find milk in a glass jug it's even better, we can walk out, pour the milk in to the growler, and then return the glass to be refilled. No waste, we get the deposit back, and we get good milk.

Next we realized we could use it for tea. In cold weather it's great to just drink tea all day, but boiling water over and over again gets annoying. Using the big thermos and our small thermoses together we can make 3 liters of tea at a go. Conveniently this is as much water as our largest pot (Angie's cast iron pot) fits anyway. As a bonus the flip-top (in contrast to a screw top) makes it easy to leave tea-bag strings hanging out while the tea is brewing. The silicone gasket still seals plenty well.

Of *course* we've also used it for beer as well :). It keeps the beer good to drink for long enough to drink it the next evening around camp and still enjoy it. Also, it feels good to walk in to a brewery and walk out with beer, and again... no waste.

Overall we feel really silly for not having bought one a year ago. Using it for beer turned out to be a bonus, with milk and tea being by far our favorite and most common uses.

For anyone on the road who loves milk or tea I HIGHLY recommend picking one of these up. In fact, I will probably keep using it instead of a tea-pot for drinking tea when we settle down someday.