Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My food bag problem.

I have a food bag problem, that I am struggling to solve, and I want your help with it. But first some background. I learned how to pack a kayak as a NOLS student in 2000. If you have ever done a NOLS course - and if you haven't I highly recommend it - you know that there is a lot of gear involved. Because of the volume of students NOLS puts into the field, the expense of high end gear, and the relatively low budget of a not for profit school, they have made some decisions on gear.

The first big decision they made was that paddling students don't dress for submersion. Which means no drysuits - actually a couple of drysuits and a couple of wetsuits go on most kayaking courses, at least the ones I worked, for days when you are teaching students wet exits and self  rescues - so students work to stay dry and if a student ends up in the water the group works together to assist the rescue of a student and then getting the student dry. This teaches the valuable lesson of, you don't need to spend a lot of money on paddle gear, but you do have to be prepared for eventualities. I like this lesson because it means that you aren't limiting what you can do in the outdoors by the gear you can afford. Currently my favorite paddling jacket is a piece of non-paddling REI outerwear. When I finally decided to buy a drysuit it was more to keep my feet dry, but having a drysuit did change the way I viewed paddling in cold/bad weather.

The second decision they made was, as a student, unless you brought dry bags with you, you weren't going to use them. This sounds crazy right? It's not. Dry bags are expensive, and if you think you are hard on gear, try putting a piece of gear through one season at NOLS Alaska. (The summer of 2006 I did right around 70 days in the field with NOLS and I destroyed a pristine TNF sleeping bag.) So think about how much the school would spend on dry bags for students that would need to be thrown away at the end of the year. So what do they do? They do this, they take a normal nylon stuff sack, and line it with two contractor grade garbage bags. White ones work really well. You squeeze the air out of the inner bag, and then just twist the top closed - you don't knot it - stuffing the twisted top down the side of the bag - the pressure of the outer bag holds it in place - then twist the outer bag and stuff it down into the stuff sack. Seal the stuff sack with the draw cord and you are ready to go. It works amazingly well. At the end of the trip you toss the liner bags.

Which brings us to my food bag problem. NOLS taught me to package food in small plastic bags with all packaging removed with the top of the bag gently knotted. Here is what my rations for the inside passage looked like. These would go into a small non-waterproof duffel bag with two liners keeping your food dry. This is what I have done for over a decade on my own trips. (NOLS would have four of these duffels for a cook group of 3 or 4 people. One would have the stove and all the pots and pans and fuel and bear spray. the other three would have your rations for the first 7 to 10 days. Then you would have "bullet bags" (called so because they are shaped like bullets) packed with your next set of rations. Okay, so here is the problem. See that bag on the left. That is my primary ration bag. It is just a regular gym duffel bag lined with hefty big bag XXL ziplock bags. A duffel bag is nice because it opens big and you can find the food you are looking for easily, as opposed to working through the opening at the top of a narrow dry bag. The problem is, it has gotten really hard to find the really big hefty bags that I use as liners.

The other problem is that the bag itself is the kind of nylon that absorbs a little water each day, so by the end of a trip it is pretty wet and gross. It has also been chewed on by a number of animals, and I really feel that it is time to move onto something waterproof. (I have already moved away from the bullet bags and - as you can see in the picture use sea to summit dry bags for my rations) So how hard could it be to find a waterproof duffel that fits in my kayak? Well, in fact, its really hard. I can't find one small enough. There are plenty of dry bags on the market, there are even a  handful of waterproof duffels, but they are all huge gear duffels. The bag in the picture is maybe 12 by 16.

I have been looking for a long time, I finally found this which looked like it would work perfectly. It seemed a little big measurement wise, but I thought it would still fit. It doesn't. So I am putting it out to the power of internet. It needs to be 20 to 25 liters. In the past a reader solved my deck bag problem, so I am hoping to have good luck this time. Let me know what you think?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Google Glass?

In November of 2011 I posted this video:

Gear Concept from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

It was an idea for a gear concept. A heads up display inside a pair of sport sunglasses. It arose out of the idea that I wanted more information readily available while I was expeditioning. I could easily get all of this information on a watch, the Garmin Fenix for example, or the Suunto Ambit - but I wanted the information portrayed visually and presented in front of my normal view. I think something like this is not that far off.

By now all of you know about the Google Glass project. As people create apps for this concept I am sure that something like this will be soon be available. I wonder if Google Glass is waterproof?

It brings to mind the conversation about technology and the outdoors. I do go to the outdoors to get away from the overload of information - I am sure this app would also tell me when I have an email or text message! - and I probably wouldn't use it on day paddles, but I would on longer trips.

Imagine mountain biking with the route on the trail overlayed on what you were seeing. It would add a layer - no pun intended - of safety when it comes to navigation.

Friday, March 22, 2013

World water day!

Today is world water day! Give this a watch.

and then go kayaking. Which also involves water.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Seems like not that long ago...

That I was packing my kayak to make sure all the gear would fit for Alaska. This was a test pack I did before switching to a tapered dry bag. There are a few other pieces of gear that got changed out before that trip as well.

packfast from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Frequently on big trips people will stop and watch me load my boat, and more often than not people will say something along the lines of "I didn't think it was all going to go in there!" I remember as a student on my first NOLS course being really nervous packing the boat. I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to get all the gear that was my responsibility into the boat. I still sometimes get nervous - usually on the first few days when the load is at its biggest, but I also find it really exciting to see how much I can get into the boat. One of the reasons I picked my delta was because of how much gear it could carry, and still be a lot of fun to paddle even when empty. The only boat I have seen carry more is the Prijon Kodiak which is an absolute monster in terms of storage.

I do break a couple of rules. A lot of people will say use a lot of little dry bags. I tend to use bigger bags because they are easier for me in terms of organization. (The argument is that if you use smaller bags you end up packing less air). I also don't put a couple of things in dry bags that most people do, My tent and sleeping pad I don't put in dry bags. My tent is usually wet anyway - because I tend to paddle in cold wet places - and my sleeping bag has never come out of the hatch wet.

There is also the debate of 'compress it really small, so it takes up less space' vs. don't use a compression sack so it is a little bigger, but is softer so it can be molded into the available space. I favor the latter. I only use a compression stuff sack on my sleeping bag.

Historically I have liked sealline dry bags, particularly the kodiak window with the air purge valve. It is a great dry bag, and a little slippery so it is easy to get it into and out of the boat. But recently I have been using more and more Sea to summit dry bags. It started with the compression sack for my sleeping bag. Then the taper bag. Then I started using a small sea to summit bag as my deck bag - a suggestion from a reader, and I will never go back. People really need to design better deck bags! - And then finally the bags I bought for the three 13 pound ration bags were sea to summit.

A big part of my kit is trying out different things and seeing what works. I always watch the way other paddlers pack their gear or organize their gear looking for new ways to do things. Everyone has something to teach.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Growing your own food is like printing your own money!

As a long time viewer of TED videos, this struck me as awesome. I just wish I was a better gardener.