Gear Review: Camping Stuff From Grip

Zucchini in the Grip-On non-stick skillet, cooked over spruce and organic fescue.

Last year the kind folks at Grip-On sent us an assortment of camping stuff to try out and review, including the:

The ones with links are available via the Grip shop on Amazon. The others aren’t yet for sale online.

All of these items have held up well over numerous camping trips and cookouts, and they’re all a decent bargain. I’ve found the skillet most useful. We like to cook over a campfire in the backyard, and zucchini on a stick just doesn’t work. The pocket light and waterproof cards would be nice stocking stuffers or birthday presents for the outdoorsy. The jumbo fork and marshmallow tree are great for roasting en mass, but when we need skewers we usually default to the on-demand whittling of sticks.

Here’s some more info on the light, skillet, and cards.

Pocket Light

This light gets the job done. The bottom is magnetic, which is nice for sticking to a tree stand when hunting, or to other metal objects for hands-free doing of things. The torch itself is blinding, as LED tends to be.

Stock image of the pocket light, as ours has apparently gone the way of the earth.

This sturdy light withstood numerous falls over the past year, in the custody of our five year old son. It shined strong until the very end. We think it is now resting peacefully among the grass and sticks en route to our last campsite.

The LED Camo Pocket Light goes for about $7 as an add-on item at Amazon. This is comparable to other small LED work lights. Requires 3 AAA batteries, included.

Non-Stick Skillet

We’ve used the skillet to cook some tasty meals on the grill and over the campfire. It works well for anything too large or awkward to cook on a stick, like hamburger patties, or foods that would slip through the grates on the gas grill or BBQ, like cut meat or veggies.

The skillet, in fold mode.

The diameter is 12 inches, depth is about 2 inches, and weight is 24 oz. So, it’s reasonably sized for a short backpacking trip. The quality is fine, though the folding handle is getting a little loose.

The skillet will run you about $10, making it cheaper than most.

Playing Cards

We’ve used these cards on a few campouts and around the house. Mostly they stay in our camping box, so as to be ready for the impromptu overnighter.

The cards are slick, both literally and figuratively. The glossy plastic makes them slippery, which isn’t really an issue unless you’re trying to play solitaire in an RV as it curves up a mountain road. On a level, stationary surface, they’re fine. Figuratively, they’re slick because they don’t fold or crease like the standard issue card. They take a beating and bounce right back.

Blackjack with the translucent waterproof playing cards.

The only downside we’ve discovered is that they’re not entirely opaque. Beware that if there’s any more than an average amount of light coming in from behind, your hand will easily show through to your opponent.

The waterproof cards are $13 after shipping.

Gear Review: VacuVin Green Banana Guard

banana case

Has a bumpy ride has ever left you with a bruised banana? You’ve got a few options for protecting your elongated fruits when biking, hiking, horseback riding, or just parkouring around town.

Apologies upfront for the phallic innuendos. They’re surprisingly difficult to avoid.

First off, I paid the full price for this gear, around $8, and am reviewing it here out of the goodness of my heart. Second, I haven’t yet tried any of the competitors.

That said, this is a pretty simple review. I’ve been using a VacuVin banana guard for a few years now, and it works. Only minor bruising after eight to ten miles crammed in a backpack on my bike rack. Potholes, curbs, the occasional bunny hop, no problem. I’ve yet to try it on while playing tee-ball.

Vacu Vin Banana Guard – Anti-Bruising Green Carry Case

The guard folds together, forming a sturdy but flexible triangular defense against jostling. It holds any reasonably sized banana, but fits best on average to large ones. Smaller fruit will float around, and end up taking a beating, like this guy.

IMG_2728.JPG

I remember from geometry class, and Zelda, that triangles are pretty strong, as far as polygons go. The only downside to the triforce of banana packages is its size. This thing is voluminous, much larger than a banana, and awkward to pack. It’s probably twice as big as the alternatives. It does fold flat when not in use, but I’ve never bothered to try.

If size is a deal breaker, check out the clam shell cased Banana Saver and the tubular Banana Bunker, which wins for most phallic, and best white elephant gift.

Gear Review: Ohyo, The Collapsabottle

ohyo_collapsible_bottle

A few weeks ago, the lovely chaps at UK-based Ohyo sent me their 500ml and 1000ml collapsible water bottles to try out. The liter version hasn’t made it across the pond yet, but the 500ml is available on Amazon.

This is my first review of gear I didn’t pay for, so I want to clarify that I’m going to be as merciless as possible with this, and with future reviews.

That said, the Ohyo “collapsabottle” is pretty cool. The smaller and larger versions scrunch down to about 1 and 2 inches tall, and only weigh a few ounces when empty. In that way, they’re sort of like reusable disposable bottles. Here’s my take after two weeks of guzzling.

The Cons

A few limitations of the aquaccordions:

  1. The straw on 500ml is tiny, and there’s no pressure release. This is great if you’re rationing water, or if you’re a rabbit. Otherwise it can prolong thirstiness. The 1000ml version with the flip top is better suited for humans, but it’s not yet for sale in the US.
  2. The scrunchy parts are prone to staying wet, and they’ll probably start growing algae if you aren’t diligent when drying. Most water bottles acquire a funky flavor with time, but these may quickly turn into collapsible fish tanks. Which is a brilliant business idea. You’re welcome.
  3. It does not produce a folky sound when squeezed, so it’s useless at a Polka dance, except for drinking from.

The Pros

Here are some scenarios where I see the Ohyo being useful:

  1. Ultralight backpacking, though it doesn’t double as a stove or pocketknife, which serious ultralighters may scoff at.
  2. Freezing conditions, for example, to stock an ice-chest or when winter camping, which is not unheard of. Experience shows that solid bottles will crack when frozen.
  3. Flying, or when you’re otherwise pressed for space.

freezing ohyo collapsible water bottle

I’ve run three simple tests on these squeeze bottles. First, I filled and froze them both outside overnight. The low was -2°F. After thawing they bounced right back to life. Next, I dishwashed them on the bottom rack, and then tasted for plasticity and soapiness. Nothing but water. Finally, I sent them to school with my kids. Keep in mind, kids backpacks are hazardous environments, where only the strongest survive. Both bottles emerged unharmed.

Conclusions

The Ohyos are sturdy and functional, plus they look cool and they’re a little less expensive than the other crushable bottles on the market.

Currently, you’ll only find them on Amazon.

DIY Jean and Fleece Chalk Bag for Rock Climbing

20140926_124812

This year Lincoln got its first climbing gym at the University of Nebraska outdoor rec center. It’s a short approach from my office on campus, about a carabiner’s throw away, so I sneak over two or three times a week to crux it up.

I’m still a noob when it comes to the jargon, though I’ve been rock climbing off and on for about ten years. My DIY chalk bag gives me some much needed crag cred. I’m obviously not a flat-lander or a belay slave. No way. This DIY bag surrounds me in a dusty cloud of climbing potential and legitimacy. It says, “I rock climb so much that I can’t afford a store-bought bag. Also, I have a sewing machine.”

20141010_113509

This 30-minute project only took me 4 hours! It was grueling, like a pitch full of tiny crimpers. But I’m pretty stoked by the final product. I incorporated elements from sewing plans on this blog, this instructable, and this site.

My chalk bag is about 7″ tall and 6″ diameter across the bottom. I’m making smaller ones for the kids, since they’ve been stealing mine and bathing in it before every climb like its pixie dust. Theirs are roughly 5″ tall and 4″ diameter.

In parting, here are some climbing terms to master, from climbing.com:

Bucket or Jug
The most secure of handholds; a hold so deep, incut, and big it’s like grabbing a lithic bucket lip.
Usage: Gimme buckets and gimme jugs, cuz Daddy’s so pumped he needs a hug!
Crimp
A small edge upon which you crimp your fingers, i.e. bend your digits to exert pressure on the knuckles, bringing your thumb against your index finger to close the grip.
Variant: Any small edge is a crimper, while a crimp-intensive climb is crimpy.
Crux
A route or problem’s most difficult passage or sequence. To crux doesn’t always mean to reach a route’s crux, but instead to redline anywhere on a climb.
Usage: Rachel is cruxing hard on Los Dynos del Muerte, and she isn’t even at the crux. Stand by for a takefest.
Pump
That tight, weak, swollen feeling in the forearms that comes, while climbing, from the accumulation of lactic acid combined with restricted blood flow. It’s much easier to get pumped than to de-pump. Also, as a verb, to sag to a straight-armed position and then cock to initiate a dyno or deadpoint.
Usage: I have the perma-pump; no matter how long I rest, I’m totally flamed out 15 feet up.

Gear Review: GI Leather Trigger Finger Mittens

gi leather trigger finger mittens wool

My first inaugural gear review ended up being more of a eulogy to the greatest pair of shoes I’ve had the privilege of knowing. I’m really going to miss those Rockports. My next pair has some big shoes to fill.

Today I’m moving on to another essential piece of clothing that has already had a big impact on me in the year we’ve been together. At the start of last winter I purchased some GI Leather Trigger Finger Mittens on Amazon for twenty bucks. I’ve gone through a dozen or so pairs of gloves and mittens over the past ten years, hiking, camping, and biking through the Minnesota and Nebraska winters, and these are hands-down my favorite.

In Jack London’s short story To Build a Fire, an arrogant Klondike explorer nearly freezes to death, alone in the woods, when his fingers ice over so fast in the open air that they wont flex or bend to pick up a match. In a revised version of the story [spoiler alert] only the explorer’s dog, warm and secure in its natural covering, survives without the revitalizing warmth of a fire.

With stiff fingers which he could not bend, he got out a bunch of matches, but found it impossible to separate them. He sat down and awkwardly shuffled the bunch about on his knees, until he got it resting on his palm with the sulphur ends projecting… But his fingers stood straight out. They could not clutch…

The frost had beaten him. His hands were worthless.
To Build a Fire, by Jack London

I think the original is better than London’s second, less juvenile version of the story. But the second version does highlight nicely the strengths and frailties of being human, in contrast to those of being canine. In most cases, human strength dominates. But at sixty below zero, the scale is tipped against us, and our dexterity, which depends on warm blood flow, isn’t effective enough to sustain itself.

Side note: I just learned that our brains are only 2% of our body weight, but use 20% of our oxygen supply and 20% of our blood flow. Wow!

Finger coordination in cold weather is an example of a key tradeoff in evolving from something primitive, like a dog, to having specialized skills, like dexterity and rational thought. Specialized skills make us more reliant on specialized circumstances. As a result, we are less tolerant of adverse conditions. Just as our fingers can now only operate above a certain temperature, our complex economy and way of life can only operate with a certain amount of electricity and fossil fuel. Someday, we might evolve ourselves into a corner where our skills don’t match the conditions.

It is a rule in paleontology that ornamentation and complication precede extinction. And our mutation, of which the assembly line, the collective farm, the mechanized army, and the mass production of food are evidences or even symptoms, might well correspond to the thickening armor of the great reptiles — a tendency that can end only in extinction. If this should happen to be true, nothing stemming from thought can interfere with it or bend it.
John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

The solution, as always, is getting back to basics and spending more time outdoors. But I’m getting carried away. Back to mittens.

after the snow campout

I’ve noticed that cold hands are the leading cause of not playing outside in the winter months, second only to cold toes. This is especially true for kids, who have no idea how to keep themselves warm, and whose boots and gloves seem never to fit right. Cold digits, sad kids.

Cold hands have been a problem for me too, especially when camping and biking. My previous mittens were the typical black nylon over some insulation with a thin layer of plastic and a fleece liner. This standard construction works fine for normal winter use, skiing, sledding, and snowball fighting, but it’s not durable or versatile enough for serious cold-weather activities.

torn mittens

The key to long-lasting winter warmth is layers. You need a strong mitten shell with removable fleece or wool liners. The GI mittens are an affordable, no-nonsense solution. They’ll keep you outside longer, while also demonstrating your disregard for the fancy new-age glove technology and whatnot. Leather palms and drab nylon-something on the outside, with wool inserts, and giant wrist covers.

Some parting remarks. These mittens have no insulation, aside from the wool liner, so you’ll have to supplement them in some way when it gets Klondike cold. I have fleece liners from another pair of mittens that I wear under the wool insert. My bike commute ranges from 45 to 60 minutes and sometimes gets below 20°F, but the frost hasn’t been a problem yet.

gi leather trigger finger mittens

gi leather trigger finger mittens instructions

gi leather trigger finger mittens instructions