Climbing, falling is a skill

I just recently completed my first outdoor 5.10 lead climb (sport). Woot! This was actually a 5.10a/b as it happened, admittedly a bit of a soft rating, but I'm going to crow a little anyway. Crossing in to 5.10's is a bit of a milestone, so I wanted to share the realization that finally pushed me over the threshold.


Most people learn climbing by climbing with experienced folks. I did this on my first few outdoor climbs way back ~2008/9 or so, but while on the road it hasn't been an option. As a result I'm largely self and book taught. This works, but there are some extra pitfalls involved.

In http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2016/06/my-first-trad-climb.html I talked about my history. I was climbing in the 5.11 range toprope indoor around 2013. I didn't climb much between then and 2016 when Angie and I hit the road. 2013 and before a lot of people showed me trad placements, I took high-angle rescue courses, etc.  As it notes there I dove in to trad lead before doing sport lead, like the people did back in the day before sport climbing was a thing, and for the same reason there wasn't sport where I was at the time. As a result I started by leading 5.4 trad climbs, working my way up to ~5.7 trad.

(Notice the klimbheist repell backup Angie and I usually use, it's compact, simple, smooth, doesn't tend to jam or melt, and makes edge transitions safe and easy)

Then we started hitting sport climbing, and I started leading 5.8's. Last fall we were climbing up in New Hampshire. I was leading my first 5.9. I accidentally climbed past a bolt. Angie not wanting to interrupt my concentration didn't yell at me that I was screwing up royally. Then I blew the move while heel-hooking a ledge... I ended up dropping ~25 feet flipping over in the process, the rope caught me fall slamming me upside-down against the rock on my back. My head impacted the rock HARD. Angie bruised up her knees pretty good catching her first major lead fall, but managed to suck up probably 5 feet or rope during my fall, saving me from an even bigger whipper. Luckily my back missed hitting anything pointy (say, a bolt) and I had a helmet on which got crushed by protected my head. I had a mild concussion, but besides replacing my helmet there were no other consequences.

Don't do that.

In contrast, on my recent 5.10 I felt pretty confident. I know I'm clipped in properly. I know that if I fall the rope will do it's job. And I know I know how to properly land the falls I was likely to take on that climb. What's the difference?


The difference is I took some practice falls. Experienced climbers are probably rolling their eyes going "Duh... idiot". Yeah, a bit, sometimes you miss the obvious stuff. For anyone else though: Start low, go up to say your second or third bolt (more rope out is better, of course), clip in, climb maybe a foot above it, and drop. Then do it from 2 feet, then with your feet above the bolt. Work up as you get comfortable.

I'd been climbing in the 5.8 range for a little while, recently while watching Angie climb lead I realized just how terrified she was of falling, and it occured to me that she needed to take some lead practice falls. As this thought passed through my mind I suddenly realized that I had the same problem. So, we took a few practice falls, not even that many, and suddenly literally the next day, She was leading 5.8's instead of 5.7's and I was leading 5.9's then a 5.10ab instead of 5.8... And we were doing it more safely!

Normally one does this when they get in to leading, but practice falls aren't an option in Trad, because every fall carries some non-trivial risk of equipment or rock failing. As a result I hadn't done it in the beginning, and I forgot to back and do it when we started climbing sport.

I'm excited, 'cause except for taking some rests, I climbed the 5.10ab clean, first try, no falls... which means it'd be reasonable for me to trad climb that route. I *should* be sport climbing above my trade level, so clearly my confidence and falling skills haven't yet caught up to my climbing ability. I'm excited to practice falling more and see where that takes me.

Next time I get on a sport wall, I'm going to take some more practice falls. I need to keep working up the runnout I'm comfortable handling. Eventually I want to practice falls (intentionally) equivalent to falling while clipping on a 15' spacing between bolts. Obviously this should be done with a lot of rope out, to keep the fall factor down.

Long story short, falling is a skill, practice it like one.


Linen Leggings

Angie and I were talking about gear. A little while ago I picked up some linen suit pants at a goodwill for a couple of bucks. I tried hiking in them and decided they definitely wouldn't hold up for a long backpacking trip. But recently, Angie suggested I try making leggings/chaps out of them. Here's what I ended up with:


I haven't worn them hiking or anything yet, but they seem like they could definitely work. The idea was for hiking on the east coast, or in other areas during peak mosquito season. I want shorts for hot days (also common in mosquito season), but I want something to put on in the evenings. I've considered making "button-offs" like zipoffs, but using buttons... but this is definitely simpler.


They remain untested to date though. As a bonus, they would work with a skirt as well, which I'm leaning towards more and more as I think about how to deal with really hot weather without nylon.

We'll see how they actually work out though!

I also finished my new food bag. It's made of lightly treated 800 threadcount sheet. The side is full-felled for strength, the bottom is double-seamed, and the top has 2 grommets and a seam. It can be used as a roll-top like a drysack or as a draw-type stuff-sack, the idea being that it'll carrying varying amounts of food well.


This was WAY more work than the linen leggings (over a day of sewing actually), as I wanted it to be very robust it's done with small tight stitching. But, fundamentally it's a bag, so not nearly as interesting :P.

Fire pit sleeping technique

Angie and I went backpacking in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. Getting out there was pretty intense... We cleared quite a few trees with the truck getting to the trailhead where we started.

We went backpacking with food for 4 days, unsure how things would go. We hiked down to the middle fork of the Gila, then down the river a couple of miles and slept on the beach. We quickly realized the going down the Gila was WAY too slow to make our original plans, so modified our loop to take a small canyon up and loop back around to some dirt roads.

Since we camped on the shore of the Gila both nights, there was plenty of sand. I was using my alpaca sleepingbag, and figured it was the perfect opportunity to finally try this technique I've read about so much.

First, I dug a pit about 6" deep. I would advise targetting 8", I'll explain why soon.


Then we lit a fire in the pit, and used it to cook our dinner, etc.


It was too dark when we put the fire out and buried it, so no good pictures there. But basically we kept it going until it was time to go to bed, then let it burn down to coals, and carefully buried it in the sand I have piled on the sides of the pit in these photos... making sure the coals didn't end up too far up in the sand.

Then, I curled up on it in my alpaca bag and went to sleep... it was very warm.

Partway though the night I had to shift a bit due to some hot-spots that were uncomfortably warm, and that I was afraid would damage the fur. The hot spots take a while to build up and reach peak temperature. This is the reason 8" would probably be better, you need a decent amount of material between you and the coals to distribute the heat properly. I had this problem both nights actually, as the second night I hadn't even planned to do this, and then I figured hey, we had a fire why not?

I will say though that it was very cozy, and was still warm come morning. In this way it was far superior to sleeping next to a fire, where you have to keep the firing going all night, and if you fall in to a deep sleep for several hours it's likely to be out when you wake up.

All in all I would definitely do this again, but digging the pit is hard, so it's a technique for loose ground only. Only useful sometimes, but a great strategy to have in your arsenal for dealing with using a little less gear.

Note: I did not use rocks in the pit, I figured sand is already rocks and would hold the heat, and rocks can sometimes explode. Rocks would help hold the heat if the pit were in loam, but in sand they just add unneeded risk.

Being Less Wasteful

I post a lot about the gear I'm making here, but I don't talk as much about the gear I'm repairing.

Here's a pair of pants I juts repaired. Somehow a coal got on it and melted a hole through it (no damage to me). I patched it with the remntants of another old pair of pants. You can see the crotch has already been repaired in a similar manner (on the outside for chafing reasons though).

In this case the fabric has some plastic in it, so I finished the edge with fire, then whip-stitched around the edge to stitch it on, then around the hole as well. If the patch was all natural fibers (like one I did on my long-sleeve shirt recently), I would fold the edge inwards first. This is actually a lazy version of traditional sail patching techniques, where you would cut the old fabric fold it under and whip-stitch it as well.


I've been wearing my buckskin shorts a lot more lately, and a couple of the seams started to open up a bit, I used an awl the work the stitching tighter and tie it off tighter again.


These are my climbing and running shorts, an old pair made of nylon. The rear pockets have been sewn back on, and the seam below the front zipper had already been restitched. This time I was restitching the crotch seam. The fabric on these seems to be holding up way better than the stitching, so Just keep sewing them back up again :P.

Note that the old repair is just a simple running stitch, but the seam I was repairing this time had been serged... I went with a blanket stitch to try and finish the edge of the fabric at the same time (at least I think that's a blanket stitch, I kind of made it up as I went).


In a similar effort to be less wasteful and throw less stuff away Angie has been learning to shave her legs with my straight-razor (which she gave me for Christmas actually). I wanted it because it bugged me to throw away disposable razor blades, and because it doesn't jam up so badly when the hair is long. She started using it too for exactly the same reasons. We run it over the strop a few times after every use to keep it nice and sharp.


When you have fewer things, it's much more apparent that they wear out. If you have more things they wear out just as much, you just don't notice because the wear is distributed across so many different items. Angie and I hate how much trash we create (mostly from food packaging, actually), but try and reduce it where we can... also, it's a good way to save money so we can spend it on better things, like burgers in town.


RoadTrip planning

I wanted to talk a little bit about how we decide what we're doing next.


First of all, Angie does most of the effort, occasionally I look up something or other to help out, or because I'm interested in maybe going there. To do this she uses 2 websites really heavily.
This first is an incredible resource for finding camping. In the West I'll say that it's a lot less necessary, since you can usually just get in to a National forest and camp anywhere, but out East it was absolutely crucial to our avoiding sleeping in Walmart parking lots, stealthing, and the like.

The second is a similar site for rockclimbing locations.


Her usual method is to look at Google maps for where the big forests are, particularly for backpacking routes, and the like. Next she'll do a quick Google search, to look for the more touristy things we might be interested in in the state... like say, airboat rides through the swamps in Louisiana, or a city she wants to visit, and locate those.

Then she'll pull up mountainproject and see if there's any good climbing in the state, and maybe pick out some areas that might be interesting. Then she'll pull up freecampsites.net and look for campsites that coincide with places we want to be. Sometimes she'll drop destinations because there's no good camping nearby, and it's not worth it. Sometimes we can make those locations stops on the route as we go from point to point, so we don't need camping nearby. Sometimes we'll go anyway if something is really exciting, or even pay for camping... but rarely.

Once we get to a forest we usually swing by the local ranger station. They'll often have tips for good hikes in the area, as well as info on where to get water, the local distributed camping rules, etc.

Then, armed with this information (campsites, and destinations) we play it by ear. In Louisiana we ended up inverting our whole plan due to both of us getting sick we beelined for the beach and worked our way north once we'd recovered, instead of south.

This kind of planning sometimes takes a whole day on the Internet, to figure out several weeks. She tries to do it in smaller chunks, a couple of weeks at a time... maybe looking farther ahead a bit only very vaguely, but in the end the goal is to identify destinations, and come up with a vague plan that we may or may not end up following, so we have something to work from.


Rarely we do want to do something that requires a reservation, in this case we actually do have to plan stuff out to the day for a short time. Doing this is always a big burden, takes Angie much longer, and limits flexibility if something comes up, so we try to avoid it when we can.

More shelters of the southwest

Here's some photos of the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The caves formed naturally. A group of Mogollon people moved in during what we believe was a time of significant environmental pressure, particularly a major drought across the south-west. This is within easy reach of both the Gila river, and a spring-fed creak that runs there. They then built homes inside the caves. It appears they left not long after, so this site has been unused for quite some time. This is one of the only cliff dwellings that people are allowed in to.


Note the T-shaped window. This is common of the ancient Puebloan style, but many other things (such as lack of circular rooms) indicate Mogollon. The Mogollons were friend's with Puebloans, and were not usually a cliff-dwelling culture, so this group probably picked up some of their ideas from the Puebloans.


Sadly by the time the site was found i was very difficult to tell a lot of things. The site had already been trashed by people, and no-one has been able to pick out what route people actually used to get up the cliff. This cliff is not shear, a climber of moderate skill (such as myself), can nearly go straight up it.


Here is a Morter, directly in the bedrock.


This is a much smaller home, also likely of the Mogollon tribe. This one is constructed under a rock-shelter down in the valley. It looks like it's filled in a little with dust, even still we could stand up inside. Much of it has collapsed, but it would've been a lot more spacious than I expected actually.


These shelters just look like such nice and comfortable homes. Warm in the summer, cool in the winter.

Near this location there are a number of pictographs as well.

IMG_20170418_131656 IMG_20170418_131856

Not shelters, but as long as we're talking about pictographs, here's some neat petroglyph as well, that we saw down in Vallez Canyon... a difficult location to get to (we really needed the lifted 4x4), but neat anyway. I actually know nothing about the originating culture for these petroglyphs except that Gila has few petroglyphs (and thus it is believed Mogollon didn't make them).


I've been reading "Neither wolf nor Dog" lately, so I was suddenly very aware of what this was, someone's home and entire life, and what it is now, a tourist attraction, though I don't yet have anything intelligent to say on the subject besides that.


Some shelters from Texas and New Mexico

I just wanted to post some of the interesting shelters I've seen recently while traveling the southwest.


First, here's a Jacal built by Gilberto Luna. It's a traditional style of mexican home. The Luna raised 8 kids in here, and lived to 108. At 5'6" I can stand at the very back, but no-where else in the shelter.


The posts are sunk in to the earth just a bit. The whole shelter is dug in to the dirt a little in the back (though likely this is due to the slope behind it collapsing). It uses a boulder as the back wall, which is part of why the roof is taller there.


The roof is wood beams, with ocotillo across it, held down against with with fencing wire. The version we saw had a layer of felt... this may be repairs or not, the man did raise sheep after all. Then there's dirt and such on top of that.


Here's another random shelter we ran in to, this was someone's attempt to build a shelter up in the mountains of New Mexico. The roof looks pretty waterproof, made with layers of thick bark, but the sides are not windproof at all, the wind blows right through (as it did while we were there). Great rain shelter, not a great shelter on a cold night. It seemed like the walls used more material than needed, it must've taken a long time to build.


This is a more traditional constructed house... sadly I didn't take any pictures of the various adobe structures we saw in various levels of destruction. Adobe is made by mixing manure mud, and drying it in to bricks. The bricks are then stacked in to a structure, using a similar mix as morter, and the final result is plastered over. This means it's made entirely with local materials (what modern folks call bushcraft :P). We noticed they often layed cables in to the layers of adobe, to help keep the walls from falling outwards I assume. The top beams are just layed directly on the mud. Then traditionally ocotio across that to make the roof.

The structure shown here I believe is part concrete. It's built in a style mixing mexican/spanish and anglo methods. But check out that awesome fireplace, with a stone header. A lot of the structures we'd seen actually used wood in that place (This was true for the various missions for example) - which probably works, but is a lot more likely to accidentally get burnt.

Review: Lem Boulder Boots (a minimal high-ankle boot)

I had these boots from Lem for about a year and a half, and they finally hit the end of their life... thus, it's time to write a review.

(Photo from these boots last backpacking trip, an overnight in the New Mexico mountains, with possible snow)

Sorry I don't have any photos of just the boots, I forgot to take one before I threw them away.... but here's the lems website https://www.lemsshoes.com/mens-boulder-boot/.

a little background. These boots are not intended as backpacking and hiking boots, they are intended as street shoes. But, I USED them as backpacking and hiking boots, so I'm going to write the review from that perspective.

These are minimal zero-drop shoes with flexible soles. This puts them in a similar category as the softstar runamoc, merril glove etc. Except, these shoes are high-ankled boots. This isn't the "ankle support" type of high ankle though. Think old-style jungle combat boots, where the ankle is flexible and acts almost like a gator in practical usage. This sets the Lem Boot apart from virtually any other shoe currently on the market. The closest would be the women's high ankled Merril Glove shoe that was actually designed as a style shoe... but it was only available for a short time.

(Photo from repairing the cap while at a friend's house in Wisconsin after rolling the truck in North Dakota, it's a bit below freezing, and there's snow on the ground... note the boots)
With that in mind, a summary

The good
  • No break in period, and almost no blisters
  • Warm enough for light snow duty
  • A little water resistant
  • Highly flexible ankle
  • Highly flexible zero-drop sole
  • Upper is extremely tough
The bad
  • Traction is abysmal
  • Boots can take days to dry once wet... longer than Angie's waterproof boots.
  • Sole is rather puncture prone, I've stabbed my foot with thorns several times.
These are the best all-around shoe I've ever owned. If I had to own only one shoe, this would be the best I've found... but probably not good enough. Jack of all trades, and master of none. I can distance run in them... but not as well as my runamocs or huaraches. I can wear them in the snow but my feet don't stay as dry and warm as in a real waterproof boot. I can backpack in them, but I have to be ready to slide at any moment if the ground gets the least bit rough. Smooth rock is particularly bad, so rock-scrambling is basically out.

Would I buy them again?


Sometimes compromise is worse than either option. My replacement boots are from Vivo Barefoot. In contrast to the Lems these boots know exactly what they want to be, a beefy leather, winter, flexible soled, zero-rise boot. I don't live the kind of life where I can get away with 1 pair of shoes anyway (that I've been able to figure out). The traction problems with the Lems were a big problem for hiking... a dangerous problem... I'd much rather have a pair of Vivo Barefoot boots, and a pair of Runamoc's from Softstar. If I was thru-hiking the PCT I'd be looking for a super thick or waterproof sock for my Runamoc's rather than going with the Lems.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, these weren't intended to be hiking boots. They are very much one of a kind and despite their design intentions they work pretty well. That said, most people who might want these for hiking probably have a specific use-case that something like the vivo's, runamocs, or similar would better fill.

Note: I have never recieved anything for free in relation to reviews or this blog. I usually write reviews only after I've worn out gear, or at least have very thoroughly used it. All opinions expressed are 100% the authors.

How much does it cost

Angie and I have been on the road for 1 year now. So, I thought this would be a good time to write about money.

One question we're constantly asked is "Are you interdependently wealthy?". Relatedly "Are you working", and "Where'd you get the money? So, first, here's the answers to those questions. No, no, I'm a programmer.

But, really that's not the most interesting question is it? Somehow most people fail to ask the really interesting question, the one they need to know if they want to do it to: how much does it cost?

I see a LOT of people saying "you can travel!" "It's cheaper than you think!" "You just have save a little"... etc. But no-one ever talks numbers. I think it's some sort of old propriety thing people have about talking about income and how much money you have. So, I'm going to break the rules of propriety in the interest of edification talk about real, solid, numbers. Here we go!


Our budget is $24k a year, total for the two of us. From that I set $4k aside for surprises (like rolling our truck in a snow-storm in North Dakota), leaving $1600.00 a month, or $800 each per month. We just reached one year and we are *very* close to this budget (within a couple of thousand). That's something I'm actually pretty excited about.

So, where does that money go? Of the $1600:
  • $400 -> gasoline
  • $400 -> food
  • $400 -> Clothing and random incidentals for Brewer
  • $400 -> Clothing and random incidentals for Angie
It's not always *exactly* that breakdown, but it's usually in the ballpark. The $400 a month gives us a budget of "spending money" for replacing clothes and shoes, going to the movies, eating out, paying for drinks at coffee shops while we hang out in town (like I'm doing now), etc.

Part of the reason it stays in this range is that we almost never pay for camping. Very occasionally (like, twice in the last year), there's something really exciting and we realize it's *cheaper* to pay for camping nearby than for gas and wear on the truck. We eat out occasionally, especially if we want to try local cuisine... it would be a shame to pass through new-orleans and NOT get some local Cajun and Creole cooking, but we try and keep it to a minimum. Eating out adds up REALLY fast.

Note, that if I were traveling alone (if I hadn't met Angie), it would cost:
  • $400 -> gasoline
  • $200 -> food
  • $400 -> clothing and random incidentals
This comes to $1,000 a month, or $12,000 a year... plus a bit of padding, and you get ~$15k a year for one person to travel in the same we we're traveling.

I don't want to cheat, so there is a MAJOR expense I'm leaving out. If you followed the build of my truck, it cost me ~$21,000.00. That's basically a capitol expense, though it certainly does depreciate. Ideally though, if we didn't have any other emergencies, in 5 years we would've built up about enough money to replace the truck again. You could *definitely* do it cheaper. Pick up a truck in a little less mint condition, get a used, cap and you could get rolling for ~10k pretty easily. I think of ours as the luxury edition, with windoors and headroom and all that (it's all relative right?)

Harder to include is all the backpacking, rockclimbing, and camping equipment we have. It's actually less than a lot of families I see who go camping actually, but it's not trivial. If you are interested in this sort of lifestyle though, chances are you already own a lot of gear you'd need to sell, and would only need to buy (or make... this is smalladventures.net after all) a little bit.

How do you save that?

Make money, and live cheaply. If you haven't seen this blog let me give it a plug: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com. I won't advocate his every viewpoint by any means, but I found it very useful in realizing what I could do with what I already *had*.

I'm not saying everyone can do it. Not everyone has resources, but many do and don't realize it. For those of us with a good job, and no dependents, it's pretty doable. For a number of years I spent in the $10k-$15k range per year. My life wasn't austere, but of my interests I chose cheaper ones.

My coworkers mocked me a bit when I was making ~$200.0k (Yes, I recognize it was particularly easy for me) but shared a 3-bedroom apartment with 3 other people, and didn't own a car. They talked about what they called "Fuck you money" and "fuck off money" the first is financial freedom sufficient to quit a job without worrying about the time it'll take to get a new one. The second is financial freedom enough to not worry about every finding another job at all. They talked about the second as ~5 million and up... But it all depends on your lifestyle. If you want to live like Angie and me, it's not nearly so unattainable as that.

Model 1
Earn money, and then spend it.

If you make $30k a year (after taxes), you can still put away a year of travel per year of work... That's pretty good. It's amazing how much money people make that just falls in to a hole of cellphone bills, cars, junk electronics they replace every year, unnecessary AC, etc.

I've met a lot of people who do this, hitchhikers, thru-hikers, etc.

Model 2

Earn money and invest it, until you can retire permanently.

Now, I definitely don't trust where the economy is going... but lets talk about investment for a moment. There's an old rule, with a pretty solid derivation I won't go in to here, that you can take out 4% of your investments per year. That means that to have 15k a year, you need $375k invested.

At 15k a year that'll take a while... So model 1 is probably better if you really don't make much money, and want to travel now. But, on the other hand, imagine you make ~100k a year (after tax, again). If you can put away ~85k a year, you could retire in 5 years, with extra money to spare.

How much do I have?
It's a little bit complex with 401k's and everything else. There are a myriad of tricks for accessing that money (one of which I pulled today actually, I just moved some money in to a Roth IRA, which makes the principle available in 5 years, and keeps that money in a low tax bracket since I'm not working). But in total I have ~600k. This is actually where the 24k a year budget came from, based on the 4% rule.

IF I can access enough of the money in the 401k soon enough, and if the economy stays stable enough, Angie and I could theoretically travel like this indefinitely.

Most likely that won't happen though. We both expect that we'll want to settle down and buy land. If we buy a 200k property that'll reduce our principle, leaving only 400k invested, which would be too thin to travel with like this again... so I'll probably work more at some point to put some more away, we can be a little less close to the wire, and so we can leave more of the 401k money untouched for when we're old ('cause if you believe my generation will get social security I have a some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you).

And remember... This is how Angie and I decided to travel for now. If you can do it cheaper, you can save even less, and get on the road even faster.

So, when someone says "are you independently wealthy?" I always wonder what they mean... I am in a sense, but probably not the way they think.

I've tried to keep this to facts.... This isn't about "everyone can do it" or anything... I just want to encourage people to look at what they have, and are making, realize where it's going, and what they could do with it if they wanted to.


Shoe Repair, on and off trail

Angie and I just both blew out another pair of shoes. Here's a picture of mine (with a repair)


And here's one of Angie's with a hole clear through the heal

Anyway, this made me realize just how many times I've blown out shoes on the trail, and that I'm using a number of tricks to deal with this that I got from esoteric sources, experience, or face-to-face conversations... so I thought I'd share them here. These two pairs of shoes were dropped in a nearby trashcan. Here's another of my shoes:


On trail repairs: Torn shoes

Here's a picture just after a quick trail repair on the presidential traverse in the White Mountains.


See the thing that looks like a metal worm in the middle of the picture? That's what's called an "S-needle". This is the single biggest secret to on-trail shoe repair. I prefer to use a waxed linen twine to do my repairs (partly because I use it for everything, but also 'cause it holds up pretty well). Another good alternative is tooth-floss (the old style, rather than the ribon stuff). That's what I used here, when I blew out a shoe on the JMT:


That last repair was actually done with a straight needle- but with great difficulty. The curve of the S-needle gives you something to get a grip on and really shove, so you can do things like shove it straight through the sole of a shoe.

Note that the first two are repairing worn out leather, where the last is actually repairing the sole coming unglued from the shoe. For the last repair,  to maximize milage before the shoe fails completely you want to stall until the sole is really pealed back a little, with maybe 3/4" unglued , but not until you catch it on something and separate it further. The thread on the toe will bust through fairly quickly (maybe 100 miles), but that's 100 miles farther than you would've gotten, and you can keep doing this repair until the shoe-sole or leather uses structural integrity.

Too make things a little easier I have a leatherman squirt PS4 on my keychain (the PS2 is even better, but no longer made). The pliers are really helpful if trying to repair heavier boots, which they have been used for on more than one occasion.

On trail repairs: Uneven soles

There is one other on-trail repair I will perform, and it can gain you a lot of milage. Many people, like myself, do not wear shoes evenly. If you wear more traditional shoes than I do these days (as I did on the AT), you may find that your shoe has worn, or the EVA midsole has collapsed such that it's hurting your knees, or such that it's created a ridge between your toes and the ball of your foot and is giving you blisters.

My solution to this is duct-tape. Take your insole out, and layer duct-tape on to the insole to "shim" the low spots back up level. If you do it right, graduating the sizes of the duct-tape you can get the shoe back to level. I've gotten an extra 200 miles out of a pair of shoe at least using this trick, and saved my knees some injury to boot.

Off trail repairs
On trail I pretty much restrict my repairs to sewing. Shoe Goo is useless in my experience, pealing off within just a few miles usually, even if you let it sit. If I wear through a shoe-sole I just hike on it (as I did on the JMT). My belief is that this is because you can't get the two surfaces clean enough... At home though, you can do this right.

For shoe sole seperation here's the trick:
1) Clean the top of the sole, and bottom of the shoe as well as you can with water, let it dry completely
2) Clean them *again* with mineral spirits, keep cleaning until your rag or paper-towel comes away CLEAN. Again let it dry...
3) Use "barge" cement, preferably original formula. I've heard the new "the fumes won't kill you as fast" formula does not bind as well. Put it on fairly liberally
4) Clamp the shoe as best you can, bar clamps or c-clamps work well. Particularly make sure you clamp near the tip of the toe, and that a little glue gooshes out as you do so.

And there you go! If you are used to repairing your shoes, especially on the trail, you can stretch them a lot farther before throwing them away. "Oh this shoe might blow out while I'm out" stops being a reason to replace them immediately... and with the average shoe lasting between 600 and 800 miles, the extra 200 you squeak out of each pair really add up.


Why I'm avoiding plastic

Some time in 2016 I started working on my no plastic backpacking kit: http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2017/03/less-plastic-backpacking-trip.html


I started backpacking when I was a kid, and got in to ultralight backpacking around when I graduated from highschool in 2002. Through college I built up my ultraight kit. My college graduation gift from my parents was an ultralight ULA pack http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2010/02/gear-review-ula-circuit.html (to this day one of the most read articles on this blog).

Anyway, around 2009 I hiked the AT with a base weight of ~14 lbs. Though not strictly ultralight (variously defined as <12 or <10 lbs base weight), I was getting in to that ballpark, particularly as I was carrying gear sufficient for comfortable edge-seasons, and below 0 survival temps.

All of that was fine and dandy, but at some point, making my gear lighter just involved spending more money, and it got boring. On a thru-hike you're rarely carrying over 4 days food (~4-8 lbs), and as I got better at managing water consumption, 1 liter of water ~2 lbs. That means ~14 lbs, you have a total *max* weight of 24 lbs, and an average weight of ~18 or so... really, at that point my pack just doesn't bug me.

At the same time I got more and more interested in bushcraft and primitive skills. I started experimenting with more minimal gear, ponchos instead of tarps, building shelters, cooking on fires, finding some portion of my food while I'm out, etc. Those who've been reading for a while know what I'm talking about. Some of my gear wore out, and I looked at replacing it, and it was expensive. I got more and more interested in the history of outdoor pursuits and wanted to try older techniques whether settler, trapper, or native. Also... I discovered that what I loved about being outdoors was the connection with nature, and that the less I carried with me the more of that feeling I got. There is nothing like the feeling of waking up in a shelter you built, walking over to a lake in the cool morning as you shiver out the cold from the night before, and taking a deep drink directly from the lake... It's spiritual and amazing, and I craved more of it.

My now ex girlfriend Jess Mink did a stone-age backpacking trip, where she made all of her gear herself from "wild" things, and all the food had to be wild gathered food as well. While really cool as an effort, it was less comfortable than I wanted... I wasn't interested in going all the way back to dropping metal. That said, on that trip she realized that anything they left in the woods basically wasn't litter. If they forgot a pot, it was just pot shards... stone really. If they left an arrow, just a rock and a stick. If they left clothing, just animal hide or wool. I thought that was cool.
Anyway, eventually I decided I needed an interesting goal to chase, to drive my experimentation and keep me moving forward in a cohesive direction. I wanted to play with making more of my own gear, carrying fewer items (not less weight). I considered historical recreation, but recreation didn't interest me. I like seeing how people did things, but mostly so I can see how I could do things... I see no reason to drop things we've learned in the meantime for "purity" along these lines. This level also allowed me to use canvas, which allows for pretty comfortable backpacking.

So, eventually I settled on avoiding plastic in my kit. Really, I'm trying to avoid modern materials, or something like that, but "no plastic" is an easy way to summarize it. This gives me something like the "anything I leave behind isn't really liter" property, which is neat. It's just sticks, rocks, plant fibers, animal hide, or maybe a chunk of metal (not that I'd leave anything behind intentionally, particularly a chunk of metal). All things that are approximately naturally occurring, if not quite in that shape. It also pushes me towards making more and more of my gear, which I like.
Now... that's why I got started. A little while ago I started thinking about Koche industries, and all of the horrible things they do to the environment. Many people hate the Koche brothers due to politics (they support republicans generally), but lets set that aside for this discussion. If you read this blog, I'm sure you like the outdoors. Whatever your political affiliation, You like to drink water and breathe air.  If you like the outdoors, clean rivers you can drink from being a prime example, the Koche brothers are not your friends. If you're thinking "I filter my water anyway"... well, firstly, why should you have to? And secondly, most filters are designed for biologicals, and don't filter out things like heavy metals or dioxins.

The Koche brothers use their money to oppose keeping rivers clean, pushing for lowering standards on things like how much mercury is allowed in rivers (which is now well over what is known to be healthy by the way, as of the Bush administration). Fundamentally Koche industries is a chemical company, and not poisoning rivers costs them money... but I want clean rivers, so our goals are at odds. You can call it politics, but this isn't about right/left-wing, this is about loving our outdoor places.

Now, look up some products made by Koche. https://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/4/1/1288957/-Sign-the-pledge-Don-t-buy-these-Koch-products
Lycra, Coolmax, Cordura, and Dacron are all manufactured by Koche. In practice it is very difficult to buy commercial products made with synthetics and NOT support the Koche brother's efforts to lower clean water standards. In fact, just today I learned that Darn Tough socks have lycra in them.

As a result I've added an additional reason for my project. I want to stop buying these products, and to prove that I can backpack comfortably without these products... because I'm tired of supporting lowering clean water standards. For this reason I've been slowly extending my project to other aspects of my life, trying to avoid Koche products in particular, but plastics in general across the board more and more, in an attempt to stop giving my money to folks who use it to ruin the very places I'm backpacking to be in.

Less plastic backpacking trip

I keep getting closer! We went for a 3 day trip, covering about 35 miles, down the Wild Azalea trail in Louisiana in March. We planned for ~40F night, ~60F day, but got ~60F night ~80F day... and rain.

(Left: My treated-cotton poncho shelter. Right: Angie's silnylon tarp shelter)

There are only a couple of major things left on the "still plastic" list.

Plastic gear used
  • Backpack frame end caps
  • Shoes
  • 3 dry sacks
  • Food packaging (ziplocks and prepackaged)
  • albutorol inhaler
  • wool tights had elastic waist
  • plastic zipper on pants
  • plastic buttons on canvas shirt 

Food packaging has always been out of scope for this project. It's interesting, and very relevent, but for something like an AT hike it's not possible with the style of hiking I like (shoot from the hip, buy from grocery stores as you go). Similarly drugs to keep my alive are off the list.

I'm not sure if I'll ever move away from using plastic soled shoes. Nothing has as good a grip... but maybe. Originally I didn't think I'd ditch the sleepingbag either when I set about this, and that's long gone.

Next is some futzy stuff... buttons and zippers... Maybe I'll get to that eventually too, but that doesn't lead to interesting experimentation or learning about new or old ways to backpack, so I might do it just for completeness, but meh.

The big obvious one left is the dry sacks. That will be interesting to figure out for sure. No treatment of canvas I've tried so far keeps things completely dry. Leather would, but it's really heavy. My plan right now is to try canvas and see if it's good enough, but I'm also considering options like only vaguely waterproof sacks, and a canvas pack cover, which by not being tight against the sacks would keep rain off. This is the idea with the poncho as well, another possible option.

(Note: linen/cotton pants, knife in leather sheath on my belt, no hipbelt, and pack uses leather shoulder-straps with hemp string for the bottom adjustable attachment. The string is tied to the pack frame with a rolling hitch and a half-hitch, and I'm using a double-taughtline hitch for adjustability)

All Gear:
 Base weight: ~19.5 lbs
 Skin out weight: ~21.5 lbs

The treated canvas shirt is a canvas shirt from cabellas, treated using methods from http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2017/02/waterproofing-cotton-poncho-experiment-2.html, 1 whole small can of mineral spirits, 3 handfulls of wax pellets, and maybe 2 ounces of pure food-quality linseed oil, applied in 2 coatings, with extra applies to shoulders and sleeves. All wax was absorbed by the fabric, and none is on the outside to flake off. I think I could get it to take more wax and be even more waterproof.

(A rusting antique car we passed on the trail, I found a tiny geocache capsule stuck in the frame actually)

The Trip

It was very warm for this trip, I didn't need the sweaters, tights, or hat. It rained a fair bit, particularly the first day, so I did get a chance to spend some time wet. I never used the poncho, finding the treated canvas shirt basically sufficient. In fact... I've been thinking and I've been on numerous trips with not-really-waterproof raincoats (say, they wore out, or whatever), and I've always been comfortable and fine. Jess did the AT with a windbreaker as a rain-coat, not waterproof at all. With all of this I'm now thinking I don't need perfect waterproofness, meaning I don't need the poncho. The effort I spent on it though has payed off. The treated canvas shirt I made using those techniques worked well. It worked far better than my old experiment with a poly/cotton mix shirt http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2015/12/diy-raincoat.html.

So, in the future I could drop ~1 lb by going to an untreated tarp instead of the poncho. I could drop another almost pound by swapping to a lighter lantern. That'll help make up for weight added when I replace the stuff-sacks.

One great find this trip was the hemp cord, bought at Michael's. It's rated to 120 lbs and is about the size of paracord... this was a huge improvement and brought down my expected weight enormously. I used it for everything, as you can see in the gearlist.

Biggest failing on this trip was the pants. They worked okay, but I got chaffing after only 3 days and 36 miles covered... that won't do. I'm now looking in to switching to a kilt of some kind and maybe greasing my thighs with lard/fat on hot days. We'll see!

All in all it was a fun trip, and I'm excited to be at such a light weight with hardly any plastic.


Waterproofing Cotton: Poncho experiment #2

This post has been a long time in coming... but I've finally finished and tested another homemade poncho.


To review
After the above experiments I took another 5.11 shirt (left over from when I did SAR in CA), and treated it with beeswas and pure linseed oil (not "boiled"). That worked about as well as the commercial treatment, and I actually used it as my raincoat backpacking. I still basically got soaked, but slowly.


Based on that experiment my theory was that the polyester was keeping the cotton from really taking in the treatment the way I'd like and binding well in to the fabric. So, I decided I had to try it with pure cotton. I still had the bottom sheet of the 800 threadcount sheet-set, so I decided to give that a try, figuring that it's properties of shedding water once the fibers swelled might help as well. I really wasn't satisfied with my first couple of attempts at treatment though, The wax wouldn't go on evenly and it kept cracking off, so kept trying. Finally I think I figured it out.


Here's my recipe:

1) A bunch of beeswax (maybe a lb), dots are easiest (and cheapest), but a block will work. I did not use toilet-rings despite their cheaper price because I couldn't find any that said they were specifically beeswax and didn't have other things in them, and I wanted to get this to work with the old materials.
2) Some normal unboiled linseed oil (maybe 8 ounces)
3) A can or more of mineral spirits (turpentine should work fine too)


Pour all three in the top of a double boiler (I use two cooking pots that nest, with some sticks in the outer one), with water in the lower pot. Heat until the wax melts, mixture will get cloudy first, and then comparatively clear. Let cool to room temperature. This is the key, at room temperature it should still be liquid! Lay out your fabric, and paint the stuff on with a brush. The fabric should look like it's soaking wet, this means you got the mixture all of the way through the fabric. Let it dry, flip it over, and do it again... this is just to be sure it got all the way through, and get some extra was on it. Finally, let this hang in the sun a couple of days so the linseed can oxidize, the stickiness will go away and the smell fade as well.


One more bit of info. From reading it seems that Linseed oil is pliable after it "dries", but beeswax is way more waterproof. Thus, as you add more linseed oil you make the final treatment less brittle (it doesn't crack off as much), but it gets a little less waterproof. My mixture above leans heavily on the waterproof side, because that's what I wanted to test first. If you want to read more about this, go read about "spar varnish" this recipe with less mineral spirits can actually be used as a spar varnish, and from what I've gathered is pretty much the original mixture called with that name (probably using turpentine instead) historically.

Note that I do NOT use "boiled linseed oil". True boiled linseed would be very interesting to try, but the product sold at the store as "boiled linseed oil" is not, it's actually linseed oil with hardeners and such in it. When I tried this on my first tarp it never dried properly and stayed sticky and stank to high heaven eve after drying for over a month on the sun.

How well does it work?
I just went for a walk for 1:15 in a moderate rain, and my shoulders are damp. Everything else that was under the poncho is bone dry, meaning also my legs down to my knees. An important other factor (given my last tarp experiment), no residue was left on my shoulders except a few crumbs of cracked off wax. If you look at classic riding coats these had a lifted shoulder panel for this reason...

There is only so much waterproofness you can expect from a thin layer of cotton, even treated. Overall, I'd say this is not good enough for a cowboy roll (for that I think you'd need a thicker cotton), but I think it will be good enough for my purposes as a rain poncho. I plan to treat my over-shirt in the same manner which is thicker and thus hopefully even more waterproof. The two together I expect to work very well even in long rains. Here's the poncho holding some water, add more though, or touch the fabric, and it starts running out.


There's always more testing to do, but overall I think I'm happy with the poncho. It's a lot lighter than 10 ounce would be, and I suspect I've managed to emulate the waterproofness of a classic old (thin) tincloth. I'd be fascinated if someone has evidence to the contrary.

I've also slept out in it wrapping my alpaca fur sleepingbag, and it worked great for warding off dew. In mist, very light rain, or snow it would work fine in this capacity as well... even though I think I'd get too wet in a full-out downpour. Obviously it still works as a tarp, it worked even before it was treated for that. I've used it several times as a groundcloth and it's also plenty good enough for that.

How I made the poncho
The poncho is 8x6, so a little big as a wearable tarp. The width I just deal with, it's nice while walking and a little annoying while doing things. Tying a rope around the waist makes it far more manageable though. I think this will be okay since I'll have a wind-shirt to wear for short spurts around camp or say, if I need to do some climbing, anyway.

Clearly though, even with the rope, 8' is too long for a poncho, so it has a button-up flap in the back taking up maybe 18" of fabric. This is like a classic nylon poncho, you can open it up to cover a pack, or when using the poncho as a tarp say, as a shelter or ground-cloth (all uses I have planned). The buttons are simple stick buttons cut around the middle and tied on. The hems I did by hand.

The neck is the most interesting component. This is a separate piece of fabric that was sewn such that water would run off. I decided that full-felled seams were a PITA, so this is just a normal seam layered properly. This design allows me to cinch the neck tight so there's only a small hole while using the poncho as a tarp, or I can cinch it around my neck while using it as a poncho to help keep drips from going down it. The plan is to combine this with a hat (as in my first picture), which I often wear in the rain anyway.


Conclusion:This recipe seems pretty decent, and a huge improvement on any other recipe I've tried. I think my final product is usable for my overall "no cotton backpacking" gear. I'm curious to try the treatment on my canvas shirt as well, and find out if a thicker fabric helps.

Lastly, here's another old post relevent to the safety of this gear

I've added grommets to this, using the methods from http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2017/02/myog-plasticless-backpack.html, and I'm finding it far superior to sewing on tieouts.