Building a 2 oz knife for backpacking

Its nice to have a fixed blade knife when backpacking, which unlike folding knives can be easily cleaned, won’t fold over fingers unexpectedly, and provides a sturdy but not overly large blade with a comfortable handle.  A knife like that is handy for cleaning fish, making tent stakes, cutting sticks for roasting marshmallows, etc.  However, fixed blade knives can be heavy, and a large blade is a little overkill for the small tasks that come up when backpacking.  I thought I’d like to have a very lightweight fixed blade knife, with a substantial handle for comfortable grip.  I made a nice little knife that fits that bill, and which weighs 2 oz, and actually floats.  This knife also has a fire steel in the handle for emergency fire starting capability.



This project starting by finding a smallish blade, of quality steel.  I settled on a blade blank by Helle of Norway, the Nying blade, in laminated stainless steel, and a 2.75″ blade for $17.   That size of blade is sufficient for most tasks in the backpacking and bushcraft world. After finding the blade, and buying it from Ragnar’s Forge knife supplies, I found 2″ cork rounds.  These have a hole in the center, and are made for building fly fishing rods.  Then I drew the sketch below of a handle shape that I liked.


Below shows a stack of 10 cork rounds, epoxied together with a dowel filling the center hole.



With the cylinder of cork, I cut it into a slab of cork with flat sides, then shaped the top and bottom surfaces into the rough shape of the handle (below).



Below, with the rough handle shape, I cut it down the middle, and carved out a slot for the blade, and holes for several brass tubes.  I thought the tubes would help secure the two sides to each other, but they didn’t seem to be needed, and they were pretty ugly.


Below; I put the two halves back together with epoxy and clamps. This version also has a slot in the handle with a razor blade in the slot.


I didn’t like the look of the brass tubes, so I cut off that handle with a chisel, and made another one just like it, but with only one brass tube for a lanyard hole.  I also made a cavity in the handle for a small fire steel, for emergency use.


Now I just have to figure out a super light weight sheath, and I’ll have a cool little backpacking knife like no other.  My friend says now when I drop my knife into a river, I can watch it float away.

Big Agnes Boot Jack 24 sleeping bag

I got the chance to try out the Boot Jack 24 down sleeping bag, made by Big Agnes.  This bag weighs a scant 2 lb 3 oz, and compresses to about the size of a volleyball.  In the quest to lighten ones pack, a sleeping bag weighing less than 3 lbs is the goal, and this one weighs much closer to 2 lbs!


Above: Spring Break hike in Southern Utah, Dark Canyon


Above: The Boot Jack 24 in Dark Canyon


Above: Big Agnes Boot Jack 24 in the Sawtooths.

This is a great bag for mid 20s and up.  It packs compactly, is light, and for being a down and for its weight and temperature rating, the price is very reasonable.  It has a nice collar around the neck, smooth zipper action, plenty of room for shoulders, good water repellency.

As I was trying this bag out, I couldn’t help to compare it to my 32 degree rated bag which cost $350.  My $350 bag had a bit more loft, weighed about 8 oz less, and was about equal in comfort.  The Boot Jack 24 costs more like $190.

I have big shoulders, and had no issues with the Boot Jack.  I sleep on my side and move from side to side several times during the night.  I had no trouble rotating inside the Boot Jack.

It was warm lower than its rated 24 degrees.  For two nights on our Sawtooth backpack I didn’t even zip it up, yet 2 other people with new 15 degree bags were uncomfortably cold on the same two nights.  When we switched bags one night, the woman slept warm in the Boot Jack 24 where in the 15 degree bag she was freezing.  Pretty good for an inexpensive bag.

I got the chance to try the Boot Jack 24 at a temperature below its rated 24 degrees.  I was in the Ketchum Idaho area, and the sky was totally clear, so I knew it would be cold.  I slept out under the stars, so it was a bit colder than if I had been in a tent. I was on a Big Agnes uninsulated sleeping pad.  About midnight I had to zip the bag up all the way and get my arms inside the bag.  At about 2 am I cinched up the drawstring around the face, and eventually I had to get it fully cinched down.  I had a down coat nearby to use as supplemental insulation, but I didn’t need it.  I was wearing a wool hat, and wool socks.  When I got up I had frost on the bag and on my down coat.  I later learned it had gotten down to 19 degrees, and I was just fine in the Boot Jack 24.  No cold spots, and my feet were warm.  I’m a side sleeper, and I was able to turn from one side to another, and position the breathing hole for good breathing and warm sleeping.  Nice job, BA!

This bag gets a high rating for me for quality and value, and I’ve been recommending it to scouts, their parents, friends and family.

Fixed Blade knife in Birdseye Maple

I finished my latest project, a fixed blade knife in birdseye maple.  The knife blank is made by a Finnish company, Enzo, and this is their smallest knife, a model they call the Elver.  I bought the knife blank already formed and tempered, and I put on the handles, with red liners, and brass pins.  I loaned a coworker an Elver to skin his elk, and it did great at a task that is real hard on knives.  This knife is perfect for this purpose, or carving wood.  Its a bit overkill for backpacking, but its fun to have a substantial knife in the backcountry.

enzo elver kit

Above: the blade blank, wood blocks (scales) and red liner material.


Above: the scales drilled for bolts and lanyard tube, liners glued to the inside of the scales, everything epoxied together and clamped to dry.


This shows how much wood has to be removed, mostly with a hand rasp.


Above: detail of the side of the knife, showing the red liners.  The handle was finished with three coats of tung oil for waterproofness, then three coats of shellac, the old time wood finish of violins and furniture.


Above: the other side of the knife, showing the finger grooves on that side, and the flare at the back end, to enhance grip.


Above: this view shows that this handle is not symmetrical.  Factory made knives are generally ovalized in cross section.  This shape is easy to to, by use of belt sanders, and allows one shape to fit both left and right handers.  With this knife I put finger groves on the left side, which fit nicely with my left handed grip.  Those grooves are about where my first knuckle hit when loosely gripping with with the left hand.  They also fit a right hand user’s fingertips, so next time I’m going to put finger slots on both sides.


Above: another view of the knife.


Above: Enzo also makes a sheath that fits this knive.


The knife fits snugly in the sheath, and the sheath has a belt loop on the other side.


Above: the coke bottle shape of the handle, with a flare at the base, a swell in the middle to fill the hand, and the finger grooves for a left hander.

Sawtooth Loop, 2014

We did a nice loop  in the Sawtooths this year, starting at Hell Roaring Trailhead, and camping at Hell Roaring, Imogene, Edna, Cramer, and ending the hike at Redfish Lake.  On the hike was Josh Edvalson, Marine and partner on many hikes.  Also my son Jim, age 18, and Kevin Anderson and his daughter Jenna.  Kevin and I did the John Muir Trail in 1971, so it was interesting to have my son and his daughter on this trip.  The scenery was wonderful, very much a reminder of the Sierra Nevada.
























Mt. Borah, Idaho’s highest peak

Jim and I headed out to Mt Borah this weekend, to climb the 12,600′ peak.  It was exhausting.  Here are some pictures.


The peak above is not Borah, its a peak we passed on the way up, this was about 7:45 AM.


This is the route on the lower part of the trail.  It seemed to go on forever.


My pace was slow enough that it was looking like it would be a very long day.  Since I had already climbed some years ago, I told Jim to go on ahead, and I waited for him at the place above.  Without me holding him back, Jim took off like a shot, and got to the top of the peak in no time.


Jim on top of Mt. Borah, wow!


Jim on top of Mt. Borah!  His first peak, and its not an easy one.


Me hiking down, with Borah to the far left, ChickenOut ridge right above my head.  We were both exhausted when we got to the car.



We started driving just as the rainstorms hit, and drove home in on-and-off showers.



MSR SiltStopper Prefilter

We did a hike in southern Utah called Grand Gulch a few years ago.  Water in that canyon was always a concern.  After a rain there would be pools of water held in solid rock basins, from 1 liter to swimming pool size.  Where the stream bed was sandy instead of solid rock, the water might be in nasty pools as big as a bath tub or smaller, covered with an oily film, and stinky.  If that was the only water available, you filter it as best you can, and drink it.  The water in the picture below would be considered very clean water for Grand Gulch.


On that trip, we had Katadyn filters, a Sawyer filter with a syringe backflush, an MSR Hyperflow, a Steripen, cloth bandana as a prefilter, and Aqua Mira drops.  The Katadyn and Hyperflow quickly clogged.  The Sawyer worked best in clear water, but took a lot of backflushing.  The Steripen was very hard to use in bright daylight.  The Aqua Mira always worked, but took 20 minutes to get drinkable water.  On that trip I thought a prefilter, like an automotive in-line gas filter, would be perfect.  I never used one because I also thought it might be made with some nasty chemicals.

MSR has added a nice tool that helps filter silty water that is often found in the desert: the MSR SiltStopper Prefilter.

MSR SiltStopper Prefilter

The picture above shows a SiltStopper after 5 days use in Dark Canyon.  Most of that red silt was sucked up the first time I used the filter.  The intake tube got too close to the mud on the bottom of the creek, and sucked up a lot of red dirt.  The white tube to the left of the dirty SiltStopper carries 3 spare prefilters.  I used the prefilter with the Katadyn water filter shown.

used filters

The picture above shows the cover removed from the SiltStopper, which shows the red dirt it caught.  Also shown is the Katadyn filter cartridge, which is in pretty good shape considering the amount of dirt in the prefilter.  I like this little prefilter.  Its a must for use when the water has silt or particulates.


Gear Shopping Advice for Folks (adults) new to Backpacking

This is a guide for adults who are new to backpacking and want to get gear for this fun sport.  This advice comes from me having started backpacking in 1967, been active in mountain rescue, nordic ski patrol, peak climbing, backpacking and mountaineering, and teaching college classes in backpacking for 12 years.  I don’t do much climbing anymore, but have 45 continuous years of backpacking, and I still love to get out.

The typical way that long time backpackers buy gear is by upgrading their old gear with newer, lighter, better equipment.  This is why I have several old packs, stoves, cooksets, and sleeping bags.  After many cycles of upgrading and replacing, I have a setup that I really like, and its not always the most expensive stuff.  A huge advantage to adults who are new to backpacking is that you can buy the right gear the first time.  That doesn’t necessarily mean buying the super expensive gear, but it definitely means not buying the wrong gear, which would  just have to upgrade to get to a product that works for you.  This will save you a lot of money.  The goals of this instructional post are to:

  1. buy the right equipment the first time, so that you don’t have to turn around and buy another piece of equipment unnecessarily.
  2. buying light and compact equipment, in order to keep an adults pack light, making it easier to keep up with strong teenage scouts, to allow more miles to be covered, and to enjoy the experience all the more
  3. buying only the necessary equipment, and not buying stuff you don’t need.

Equipment discussed below is ordered by what equipment you should buy first, and is most important.  As a central component is the need to keep the big three items (tent, sleeping bag, and backpack) to a weight below 3 pounds each, and preferably closer to 2 lbs each.

Sleeping Bag:

If there is one piece of equipment that a new adult backpacker should get right the first time, that is your sleeping bag.  It can either bring you great joy, or cause you much fear and uncertainty.  It is a great joy when you know that at the end of the day you are going to be warm and you won’t be waking up cold in the night.  It is a great uncertainty if you wonder if you are going to be cold all night, and knowing that you have to buy a better bag than the piece of crap that you have.

To make a long story short, I would recommend that you buy a 15-25° sleeping bag with down insulation, in a mummy shape.  This is for 3 season use in the mountains of the Western U.S.  It should weigh less than three pounds, or even less than 2.5 pounds.  Such a sleeping bag can be found for not much more than $100, but some good brands like REI or North Face might run $200.  As of this writing, a great deal is a Kelty Cosmic +20 F sleeping bag, for about $115.  It weighs less than 3 pounds.   Another good buy as of this writing is an REI Mojave, for $146, rated at 15 degrees, and weighing less than 3 lbs REI lists a number of 15-25° bags for less than $200.

What I have is two sleeping bags, a very light and compact one which is rated at 30 degrees, and a winter bag rated at 0 degrees.  I tend to sleep a little cold in the summer bag, because temperatures in the mountains of Idaho can get down to the mid 20s.  When that happens, I put on a hat, possibly wind pants, socks, and my down coat either inside or outside the sleeping bag.

Above Right:  Kelty Cosmic 20 Degree, $115, <3 lbs

Above Left: REI Mojave, 15 degree, $146

Bags filled with synthetic insulation are definitely cheaper, costing less then $80, but they don’t last as long, and they don’t stuff as compactly.  If you do think of a synthetic filled sleeping bag, get a good brand like GoLite, Marmot, or REI.

Bags well rated in Backpacker Magazines 2012 ratings:

Sierra Designs Cloud 15,  15 degree $499, 1 lb 13 oz

REI Igneo/Joule, 22 degree, $339, 2 lbs 2 oz

Marmot Cloudbreak 20, 20 degrees, synthetic fill, 2 lb 14 oz

REI Habanera, 1 degree, $299, 3 lbs 9 oz

Types of Bags to Avoid:

Certain sources are good places to get a high-quality sleeping bags, and certain places are just about guaranteed to provide you with a bag you will be unhappy with. Stores such as REI, REI online, Idaho Mountain Touring (Boise), the Benchmark (Boise), and GoLite are generally places to get good sleeping bags. Brands which are good values in sleeping bags include REI, North Face, Kelty, Mountain Hardware, Sierra Designs, Montbell, and Marmot. Top ranked bags include Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends, but these are expensive and other brands like Marmot, REI, and GoLite are almost as good and quite a bit cheaper.

Stores which I guarantee you will sell you a bag you will not be happy with are Cabella’s, Sports Authority, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Walmart, Costco, and Army Navy Surplus.  Brands to avoid include brands such as SlumberJack, Coleman, Cabella’s, and Camp Trails.

The best way to pick up good value in sleeping bags is to buy them on sale, such as the REI garage sales, or in certain cases used bags through eBay or if you know what you’re buying. If in doubt about a bag on ebay or craigslist, ask an experienced person about the brand and price.

The REI garage sales are particularly promising but you still have to know the brands of bags that you want to look at, and you have to check the temperature ratings of the bags that you find. The REI garage sales are for REI members only, and it is worth buying the $15 membership just to go to the garage sales. In the garage sales items which have been returned from customers are resold at 50% or more discount. Often they have been returned because they have a hole in them or some other minor defect. A hole in a down bag is inevitable in the life of the bag, and can easily be fixed with duct tape, or a special tape for rip stop nylon, which is very similar to scotch tape.

Golite has great values and have an online outlet as well as a local store.  The online Golite store is at, and a “clearance closet”  with especially good deals is at


This is #2 of the big three items, one which you want to keep under 3 pounds, and closer to 2 pounds.  Theoretically you should get this item last, because all your other stuff has to fit in it.  But you also have to have a pack in order to go backpacking.  Borrowing or renting one is a good option at first.  When you buy your pack, if possible take all your stuff in a box to the store when you try on packs, and put all your stuff in the packs for fitting.  If your stuff is compact, a 65 L pack will work.

I use an REI Flash 65 pack, which was Backpacking Magazine Editors choice in 2009, but has since been discontinued.  You might find a used one on ebay and I would recommend it.  It is 65 L, and weighs 3 lbs 2 oz.  There is a review of it here:

GoLite has some very light packs.  Whatever pack you get, it should weigh less than 3 lbs.  They can be found for less than $100 in their golite clearance closet.  Also check closeout and sale items on

Packs less than 3 lbs and highly rated in Backpacker Magazines 2012 ratings:

REI Flash 62, $189, 3 lbs (replaces the Flash 65 in the REI lineup) seems to be a great pack.


The next major piece of equipment for adults is boots.  You can get low top, over the ankle, light weight or heavy weight.  After DECADES of using heavy leather mountaineering boots, I switched to light weight hiking shoes and have never gone back.  I have had great luck with my current boots, Keen hiking boots, and I could recommend them to anyone.  A pound on your feet has a huge effect on your level of tiredness.  The lighter the boots, the further you can hike before you are exhausted.

I think low tops are fine, such as these models.

What is needed in hiking shoes for adults is a sole that is stiff enough that rocks don’t poke through.  Soft soled shoes like flipflops or moccasins or deck shoes can hurt a person so much that they can barely walk after a day of rocky trails. Keen sandals however, have a pretty stiff sole and can serve for hiking in a pinch.

Camp shoes are a wonderful thing.  Crocs are very light, and Keen sandals are heavier but also more protective of feet if you have to hike out in them, like if your boots fall apart or are burned in a fire (it happens) . Even flip flops will be appreciated at camp.

Hiking Poles: These can be a lifesaver, or a knee saver.  They can ease strain on ankles and knees, aid in crossing streams, greatly protect the knees when going downhill, help boost your body weight up a steep hill, and can serve as tent poles for some tents.  Neoprene knee braces and bands help some older hikers.


After boots, the next urgent thing to buy is appropriate clothing, including rain gear.  Hiking and backpacking clothing has a common theme, and that is NO COTTON.  Wet cotton dries very slowly if at all, and it sucks the heat out of the wearer.  Loss of body heat is what kills people lost in the mountains, and cotton clothing is a great contributor to that statistic.  The clothing that is needed is listed below, and this is the same for a weekend trip as for a week long backpack.

Article of Clothing Description Good source or brand
Long pants, nylon Zip off legs preferred, must be nylon REI or equivalent
Long sleeve shirt Must be nylon, I like button up shirts, REI, Savers, Sports Authority
2 T shirts Nylon, can be soccer shirts Savers, Sports Authority, soccer shirt, Underarmour
2 pr underwear Nylon preferred. one work, one carried REI,
Sun hat Baseball type, or some prefer a broad brimmed vented synthetic hat
Fleece hat for warmth it gets cold at night, and a fleece hat worn at night extends the comfort range of a sleeping bag
Fleece pullover Or a down sweater or light down coat (no ski coats) Savers, REI, Idaho Mtn Touring
Light fleece gloves light ones
2 pr wool blend socks Wool blend, Costco has the best deal on merino wool socks.  4 pair for $11; REI charges that much for just one pair;  unfortunately they only carry them Oct- Jan. 6 Point socks are great, available online only REI, IMT, Costco, 6 Point online
Rain Coat This should be an unlined shell with Goretex or similar coating, not a ski coat, should be totally waterproof, have a hood, cover the butt, have pockets, and should stuff into a sack the size of a large coffee cup This is likely to cost $100.  A cheaper alternative is a coated nylon one.  It should be loose enough to cover the fleece pullover or down sweater

Surprisingly, that is all the clothes a person should ever have on a backpack.  Anything added to that list is just adding weight to the pack.  On a cold night you will be wearing all of that gear.  On a longer backpack you can wash a set of socks, underwear and t shirt every day, and hang if off the pack to dry.  Washing is by swishing in soap and water in a zip lock bag.

Fleece pullover, OR down coat (you don’t need both)

Sleeping pad:

This is another absolutely necessary piece of gear, right up there with clothing and sleeping bag.  While a 90 pound scout can do fine with a foam sleeping pad, an adult needs a pad thick enough that hips and shoulders don’t bottom out when laying on your side.  Fortunately, such pads exist and provide sufficient padding for a good nights sleep, while being fairly compact and not too expensive.

Options are Big Agnes Air Core inflatable for around $80, or the more expensive NeoAire by Thermerest for $120 and up.  Sometimes the Neoaire can be had at REI garage sales for less than $40.  Those often have holes in them, which are easily patched.


What if the most comfortable sleeping pad was the one on the left, and it was also the lightest?  Would you pay $120 for it?  You will never regret it.

See for more info on these sleeping pads.



Sleeping pads rated well in the Backpacker Magazine 2012 ratings issue:

Exped Downmat UL7, $209, 1 lb 4 oz

Therm-a-Rest NeoAire XLite, $180, 13 oz

Therm-a-Rest Z lite Sol, $45, 14 oz

Nemo Cosmo Air XL, $160, 2 lbs 1 oz

Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core, $140, 1 lb 11 oz

Therm-a-Rest All Season, $140, 19 oz

Cooking Gear:

Little is needed for eating utensils: a plastic cup, a plastic bowl, and a plastic spoon.  Mark the cup with indicators for portions of a cup, and make it a measuring cup.   For a water container, a bottled water plastic bottle is best, or something like a GatorAid bottle.  Some like an insulated cup for keeping hot drinks hot longer.


For carrying water, cheap (and lightweight) drink bottle, like Coke, Gatoraid, or water, and collapsible 4 L nalgene bottle.  Some use a bike water bottle and squirt water out the nozzle for measuring.

Knife: A smallish lockback is the safest and most versatile.  The tiny Swiss Army Classic is also good, because it has scissors. I like a Mora knife, a durable and cheap utility knife.  A big survival or hunting knife is totally not needed on any backpack.


The smaller the flashlight, the better.  All one needs is enough light to find a piece of gear in the pack or tent, or find your way along a dark trail.  An LED flashlight that takes one AAA battery is perfect for the task, and highly recommended.  If there is a possibility of hiking at night, an LED headlamp is recommended.  A photon LED light would also work, but it needs to be checked for battery life before a trip.  LED hats work out well, but you have to be sure there is battery life.  Some bring an extra battery for insurance.

I love my Petzl Zipka, shown below left, which uses 3 AAA batteries.

First Aid Items:

Each hiker should have basic first aid gear, especially articles for treating blisters and small scrapes and cuts.

Moleskin, 3”x 6”

6 Bandaids

Rubber gloves

2 sterile gauze pads, 3”x3”

Small (1/2 motel size) bar of soap

small roll of adhesive tape

small tube antiseptic

small scissors

pencil and paper

eye protection

butterfly bandages


Additional first Aid Items for Adults:

Adults can have some more items, such as meds in small (1” x 3’) zip lock bags, with a small paper label.  For meds you don’t need a bottle of each, just 4-6 pills of each:

mouth barrier device


Ibuprofin (useful the morning of a tough day, to prevent tendon swelling around knees and ankles, and for use before bed time)

Extra Strength Tylenol

Tylenol PM  for before bedtime (softens the ground)

Benadryl (for allergies)

Imodium (for diarrhea)

Pepto-Bismol tablets

Alka seltzer Plus

Migraine Aspirin

Prescription meds as needed

Antibiotics (I take a round of antibiotics for possible infected blisters or cuts)

Pack Cover:

Packs may need to be outside the tent overnight, and might be subjected to rain.  They also might be worn while hiking during rain.  Being able to cover the packs for rain protection is thus essential.  A purpose made sylnylon rain cover is one way to accomplish this, or a large plastic garbage bag also works.

Personal Hygiene Kit

Chapstick (this could be essential enough to bring an extra to loan)

Tooth brush

Tooth paste (baking soda preferred for low odor to not attract bears)

Wet wipes, 2 per day, for cleanup at end of day (essential)

Hand sanitizer

Toilet paper in zip lock bag

Dental Floss

Camp Soap, liquid. in small container, for washing clothes and bathing

Survival gear

Plastic garbage bag big enough to cover pack

Compass, Map

Waterproof matches

Small mirror for signalling (a compass with a mirror covers this need)

Whistle, attached to outside of pack for immediate access

Fire starting steel

Cigarette lighter (take multiple ones)

Mosquito repellant (in a small pump sprayer, like 3 oz) during the bug season

Sun block (in small pump sprayer). DEET works longest, but melts nylon and goretex.  Non Deet products work fine, but don’t last as long.

Head net for bugs in summer months


A tent is #3 of the big items which you want to be less than 3 pounds, and preferably less than 2.5 or even 2 pounds.

In many current designs of tents, lightness of weight is achieved by having a low profile and by using a single wall made of Sylnylon fabric. Look at tents that are available on the website.  These single wall tents have floors, zip up mesh walls to keep bugs out, and do fine in rain, wind, and light snow. Generally, these tents are no more expensive than larger and heavier tents.  I have a Tarptent Squall 2, which has plenty of room for 2, but is super roomy for one.  It weighs 33.5 oz, or just over 2 pounds.  Shown below are other tarptent products, all singlewall, with floors, and bug mesh walls and doors, and they have zippers to seal out bugs.

Good brands of tents to buy include Tarptent, REI, Mountain Hardware, North face, GoLite, and MSR. Another option is a hammock like the one above.

Tents that weigh less than 3 lbs and are highly rated in Backpacker Magazines 2012 ratings:

Mountain Laurel Designs Cricket one man, $295, 1 lb 3 oz

Nemo Obi Elite 2P, $480, 2 lbs 3 oz

Mountain Hardware SuperMega UL2, $430, 3 lbs 2 oz

Those prices make Tarptent prices look pretty good:

Contrail 1 man, $199, 24 oz

Squall 2, $235, 34 oz

Double Rainbow, $260, 41 oz


The standard range of stoves include canister stoves, with Giga Power and MSR Pocket Rocket being popular, gasoline stoves, and alcohol stoves.  If the plan is to just boil water, the JetBoil is fast and fuel efficient, but all these stoves boil water.  Being 2 minutes faster to boil water is not as important in the backcountry as being reliable and foolproof.  I like alcohol stoves in general, and specifically one made by TrailDesigns, called the Caldera Ti Tri.  It allows me to cook biscuits, pizza, and cornbread, when used with the Outback Oven.  I mostly cook pasta, couscous, and rice dishes with a sauce and smoked salmon or freeze dried chicken or beef.

This stove burns alcohol fuel in a super lightweight stove made from pop cans, and also burns wood, and esbit solid fuel.  I use this stove combined with the Outback Oven to do baking.  I have an Evernew 1.9 L titanium pot.  A smaller pot can be used for solo cooking.  TrailDesigns has a pot made from a Heinekin can, which works with a support cone and stove. Its got to be the lightest stove out there.  If the plan is to just boil water, a timy alcohol stove and a small simple pot will do fine, and a 1 L capacity is fine.  A fry pan lid helps for cooking fish, but a piece of aluminum foil as a pot cover is lighter and works for boiling water. Shown below are common stoves of good quality.

Water Filter:

PUR type water filters are a workhorse and durable filter.  Sawyer gravity filters seems to be very good.  to the scouts.  Alternatives that are much lighter include the MSR Hyperflow, and a chemical treatment called Aqua Mira.  The only drawback to the Aqua Mira is that you have to wait about 20 minutes after treatment before you can drink the water, but you can treat a gallon or more of water at once.


Knife Project, an Enzo Elver Kit

Enzo is a Finnish company that makes all kinds of knives, including blade blanks, and kits with the scales, rivets, and blade blank.  I bought a kit, the Elver model, to give it a try.


The kit comes as shown above.  Scales, knife blank, Corby rivets, and sheath.  It is about $60, even with shipping from Finland.  U.S. knife suppliers also carry Enzo kits.  I choose Micarta scales, and a blade in 01 steel, with a Scandi grind edge.  The edge is sharp enough to take hair off the arm right out of the box.  01 steel is a type of steel which is a good compromise on corrosion resistance, ease of sharpening, holding a blade, and being durable for all around use.  This is an awesome knife for bushcraft, hunting, or backpacking.  You can do without a substantial knife when backpacking, but if you need it a sturdy blade like this is much appreciated.  Like when you forget your tent poles and have to fashion your own out of willow (done that). Micarta is a material made of a cloth like denim, encased in epoxy.  Unlike wood, it will not absorb water, split, dry out, or otherwise fail.




Above: You’ll notice the scales in the kit don’t have a hole for a lanyard, but I wanted a lanyard hole.  I put the blank on a board, clamped it down (that was stupid, I scratched the blade doing that), drilled holes though the handle holes.  Then I put the bolts in the blade to position the blade, then positioned the blade on the board, with the lanyard hole in the blade directly under the drill, and secured the board to the drill table.  Then I put the scale on, and drilled the lanyard hole.  I did the same thing to the other side, and got a lanyard hole in each scale fairly true to each other.  For a brass tube I found a small brass tube at Home Depot, originally for plumbing.



The next task was to glue (using epoxy) the scales to the tang of the blade, while tightening the bolts, and putting the lanyard tube through the handle. The whole mess was epoxied together, clamped, and left to dry.



This (above) is what the knife looked like with the clamps removed.  The bolts would be filed down, and the handle trimmed to match the tang, and shaped with a rasp and a lot of sanding.


This is what the handle looked like with the bolts filed down, and the scales generally shaped to the shape of the tang.  When working on the blade I put tape on the blade to cover the super sharp edge.



Above is what it looks like finished.  It  has imperfections all over, but my theory is that those are left there deliberately to prove that its handmade.


Above, the look of the red liners along the back of the knife.



Above, close up of the handle, a rivet, and the lanyard hole.  I sanded down to 4000 grit on the rivets to give them a mirror surface.  I went down to 600 grit on the handle, then put on a finish of carnuba wax with a polishing wheel.  I have the next project teed up, another Enzo Elver, but not from a kit.  It will have curly birch handles, and red liners under the scales.

Craters of the Moon Backpack

Doing a spring backpack to Echo Crater in Craters of the Moon is becoming a regular hike for Troop 100.  We had 12 scouts and 8 adults head out there, each with at least 3 liters of water.  There is absolutely no water out in that desert route.  Before the hike Tom B. gave a short class on map reading and orienteering, and the scouts divided up into 3 patrols and set out with compass bearings of a route on which there were 7 checkpoints, with a poker chip for each patrol.  All three patrols came back with all their assigned poker chips.


For a lot of these scouts this was their first backpack, and carrying 3 liters of water, you always wonder how its going to go.  Boots can give blisters, packs can be ill fitting, and kids can bring more weight they can carry.  The picture below is the group moments before departure.




Along the way we saw some tiny desert wild flowers, like the tiny allium (wild onion) below.



Below is a tiny larkspur adapted to live in the short growing season, with cold winds and little water, growing in chunks of volcanic pumice.




Another larkspur growing in the protection of a thicket of sage branches.



Below, our fearless leader Tom Baskin trying to figure out where the scouts are, or maybe where we are.



One more tiny flower, about an inch tall.  Some kind of violet?


Below, from the rim of Echo Crater looking down into the bowl of the crater, where we would set up tents and spend the night.




Below, a scout is always prepared, this time with a hammer.





The next morning, the scouts pack up and head out at a rapid clip.  I didn’t catch up to them till we reached the cars.




Talk about a strong leadership group, we practically had those scouts outnumbered.




Gary could not resist doing some climbing on the hike out, in this case, in a dead tree.



Below: typical terrain hiking through the desert.  Snow in the hills in the distance, but the temperature was pleasant where we were.


The best trail supper ever, Scalloped Potatoes!

Scallop potatoes are great, so why do we never make them when backpacking  I’ll tell you why.  The potatoes have to be near boiling for 20 minutes or so, and they have a cheese sauce that burns easily.  When using canister stoves, the fuel efficiency goes way down when simmering, plus the heat comes from a very small spot, so burning the milk and cheese on the bottom of the pot is inevitable.  BUT, I found a way to cook them to perfection, plus by adding BACON and asparagus pieces, its better than what you have at home.



I used an off the shelf box of Betty Crocker Scalloped Potatoes, with cheesey sauce mix.  You don’t want the sauce to get too dry, so it doesn’t burn.  It calls for butter and mild, and I take a little butter when backpacking, and I take powdered milk, so that is no problem.  I got some asparagus pieces from Pack it Gourmet, and a pack of Hormel cooked bacon slices.  These are shelf stable as long as the envelope has not been opened.

I get the water up to boiling, then add the potatoes to the pot.  The box called for 2 cups water, I used three to account for the dry milk and freeze dried asparagus.  After the water is boiling and the dried potatoes are in, I put on the summer ring on the Caldera Cone alcohol stove.  This chokes down the flame, to a little flame that keeps the contents simmering.  Then I add the asparagus and the bacon after its cut up, and stir often with a spatule with a flat blade, so I can scrape the bottom of the pot.  By the time the potatoes are tender, the cheese sauce is creamy and the asparagus is tender.  One box fed two hungry guys.  Its about the best backpack supper I’ve had.  The picture at the bottom shows the Caldera Cone stove and simmer ring, with some corn bread cooked on the fry pan.  Below: Bob Shaver enjoying scalloped potatoes in Dark Canyon, So. Utah canyon hike.

Bob Shaver with scalloped potatoes.

Bob Shaver with scalloped potatoes.

Below: TrailDesigns simmer ring and Caldera Cone stove, with cornbread made in the fry pan/pot lid.




Dark Canyon, Utah, spring break backpack

Erik Lund, Tom Baskin, and I finished a backpack in Dark Canyon, in the desert of South West Utah.  It was between Hanksville and Blanding, near Lake Powell on the Colorado River.  It is very remote, and one has the feeling that a rescue is out of the question, there is no cell coverage, and […]

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How to Build an Enzo Knife, LR Horgan

Editor’s note: Enzo is a Finnish company that makes high quality knife blanks, and sells them as the blade only, as a kit with all the parts needed to make a knife, and also sells the pins, rivets, scales, and parts needed to complete a knife.                             Above: EnZo Elvers in D2 in Ebony (solid […]

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Winter Camp

Went camping with the scouts, and after last year’s bitter cold 10 below nights, I was braced for cold weather.  Instead we got bad weather.  I stayed in a 4 man, 4 season tent, and wondered just how big those 4 men were.  I found the tent to be about right for two guys and […]

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Most Excellent Menu for 5 dinners

These are the dinners we had on the recent Grand Gulch trip.  We were cooking using the Caldera Cone, and besides these dinner meals, we had biscuits made from mix, and popcorn for dessert.   Baked Pizza using Caldera Cone and Outback Oven Serves one, Baking time 25 minutes Double the recipe for two people, […]

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Echo Rock Hot Springs

We planned to take the scouts on a hike along the Owyhee River in mid November, but the weather was predicted to be rain or snow for Saturday, clearing by late Saturday.  We woke up to snow on the ground in Boise, and 6 of our 12 scouts dropped out.  Were they the smart ones?  […]

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Backpacking Chair – REI FlexLite Chair

What blasphemy is this, taking a folding chair backpacking?!  I can’t believe I am uttering these words.  It all started in 2012 when I did a hike with the scouts in Grand Gulch, in southern Utah.  George Walters and his son were with the group, and George brought a chair for himself, one for his […]

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Bear Valley Hot Springs

Bear Valley Hot Springs might be my favorite late season backpack.  Its about 3 miles in, and is probably the best wilderness hot springs I know of.  The main pool is at a perfect 102 degrees, has a gravel bottom with no algae, and could hold maybe 8 people at a time.  The way in […]

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Rapid Lake backpack with the Scouts, September 2013

Troop 100 was scheduled to hike to Box Lake, a popular lake off Lick Creek Road, but as the departure date approached, the roster was becoming too large for the limited camping at Box Lake.  We picked an alternate destination to Rapid Lake, also near McCall, a 4 mile hike from the Boulder Meadows campground.  […]

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Uintas Trip, July 2013

These pics are from our week long trip to the beautiful Uinta range of Utah.  We started at the Highline Trail trailhead in the Unintas, after spending the night at a campground at Trail Lake Campground.  These places are about 30 miles east of the town of Kamas, Utah. From the trailhead, we headed to […]

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Tenkara fishing

Tenkara fishing is a Japanese style of fishing which uses a rod, a line, and a fly.  It uses no reel, no eyelets on the rod, but the rod is telescoping.  I first tried tenkara fishing when I was a child in Kansas, but we called it fishing for catfish with a cane pole on […]

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