Equipment Reviews
A Complete Kitchen In A Pot
GSI Pinnacle Soloist Cookset

Assuming you're using one of the compact canister stoves, the Pinnacle Soloist is the perfect companion cookset.

The canister fits inside the cookpot and the folded up stove fits in the bowl, which then goes above the canister in the pot.

The Soloist set comes with a pot, its lid, the bowl, its lid, a foldable spork, and a storage bag which holds water and doubles as a wash basin.

Without the stove and canister, the cookset alone weighs 10 ounces. When you add the stove and canister the whole assembly weighs 20 ounces.

The pot is hard anodized aluminum coated with non stick teflon. The handle folds over to hold the lid on the pot when travelling. It locks into place and releases with a pinch of the handle at the hinge. The handle is coated with plastic so you can use it when the pot is hot.

The lid has a pouring spout on one side and small holes around the other to let steam escape when you're heating dinner.

The bowl has a gray insulation band around it to keep food warm. It also has a lid with holes to let steam escape. The lid is clear so you can see what's inside.

There's even a small bag for the stove, so it doesn't rattle against the sides of the pot and scratch the teflon.

The set is specifically designed to fit the Soto Micro Regulator Stove inside. If you try a Pocket Rocket or some other canister stove, they won't fit. You can customize them by using a Dremel to cut the ends off the stove wings. They'll still hold the Soloist stove.

You should also wrap a soft cloth around the pot before inserting the canister and bowl so the metal canister or plastic bowl don't damage the pot's teflon lining. This also prevents any rattling. We use a towel. Then we have it to help clean up.

The 1.1 liter pot is actually big enough to prepare dinner for two.

The spork is cute but rather useless. We leave it home and bring a regular knife, fork and spoon we've been using since our Boy Scout days. No, they don't fit in the pot but we just pack them with the food.

If you use Mountain House or Alpine Air freee dried backpacking meals, this set works perfectly. If you're into cooking more complex meals from scratch, this might not be for you. However, if you and a partner each carried one of these plus a canister stove, your combined efforts could prepare just about any meal you wanted.

The Soloist retails for about $45.

Sundowner Is Still The Ultimate Hiking Boot

Hiking and Backpacking boots is a volatile market. Fads come and go. Brands come and go. Styles come and go.

But the people who make their living out on the trails ---rangers, researchers, writers and guides --- and those who hike all the time, especially long distance backpackers, almost unanimously choose the Vasque Sundowner and have been doing so since the 1970s.

It's been a classic for 40 years. A pair usually costs about $220.

First, the Sundowner is made of top grade leather, tanned here in the U.S. Yes, that adds a little weight. But it allows the boot to be maintained with a once a week treatment of Melton or Kiwi shoe polish.

Cleaned and polished, Sundowners can be worn into town like any pair of Florsheim wing tips.

Second, the Sundowner uses a standard Vibram sole. This allows it to grip mud, rocks or dirt.

It also allows it to be easily resoled every couple of years. Many sundowner owners wear through three sole cycles before the tops finally wear out.

Sundowners feature a Goretex lining, so they're waterproof unless you let water spill over the top during a stream crossing. If you insist on crossing streams in them, you're advised to wear gaiters to keep the water out. But crossing streams in them does shorten their lives. Most veteran hikers carry a specialized pair of water shoes they use for that purpose.

The boots have eyelets for lacing with open hooks at the top, as seen in the photo at left. By using different lacing patterns or skipping one or both rows of hooks, you can adjust the fit.

Sundowners do require some wearing in. You can't take them out of the box and go for a hike. You have to wear them around the house, then around town, for at least a week and usually more to loosen them up and let them adjust to your feet. Many devotees place a softball in the ankle area every night to loosen up the ankle and heel. They also use shoe stretchers to loosen up the toes. Some hikers find this wear-in time annoying and avoid it by buying the Skywalker, another Vasque boot with similar features but made of fabric instead of leather. However, once worn in, the Sundowner outlasts and outperforms every other hiking boot on the market. Most people think the trade off is well worth it.

The Sundowner offers good support. But many hikers, especially long distance backpackers, add an insert for additional arch support.

Sundowners have a narrow last. If you have medium to narrow feet, you'll be fine. If you have unusually wide feet, it may not be the boot for you.

The Sundowner has had an interesting history. It was originally made in Italy and built its reputation on those Italian versions. Some people, who do not hike long distances and usually only go for a day hike once a week, are still wearing Italian Sundowners, although they may be in their second or third soles. But then Vasque moved the boot to China. For a decade, it was made by the Chinese. It was still a good boot, but many fans were disgruntled and some found the fit was different. Vasque for a decade received complaints about the boot. Finally, in 2017, the company moved the manufacture to Vietnam, returned to the original Italian lasts, and returned to American tanned leather. They also changed the color slightly, from Brown to Red Oak. A lot of fans still wish Vasque would go back to Italian manufacture, but everyone agrees the Vietnamese shoe is better than the Chinese version.

You can order the boot online, but you're better off to buy one in a store. You need to try on several sizes. The Sundowner comes in half sizes, and the difference between an 8, 8.5 and 9 can be significant. You want to try a pair on with two pair of hiking socks and possibly a support insert, and be especially careful with the fit in the toebox and the ankles.

Soto OD-1R The New #1 Backpacking Stove

The search for ever smaller, lighter and more reliable backpacking stoves has been going on since the 1950s.

Svea took the early lead with its solid brass liquid fuel Optimus model. It still sells well today and over a million backpackers, canoeists, hunters, fishermen, rangers and guides swear by it. The two big disadvantages of the SVEA are that it has to be primed before use, and it has to be cleaned between trips. Svea devotees consider these labors of love but others tired of the time and effort.

So companies started offering isobutane/propane cartridge stoves. MSR finally displaced Svea with its Pocket Rocket,which was much lighter and more compact than the Optimus.

The Pocket Rocket was the best seller for two decades, has been updated several times and is still popular today.

But the new state of the art stove is the Soto OD-1R, called the Micro Regulator. Designed and manufactured in Japan, the Soto retails for about $70 and while similar to the Pocket Rocket, it evolves past it in several regards.

Like the Pocket Rocket, the Soto screws to the top of a standard threaded isobutane canister. One canister is good for about 90 minutes of cooking.

Unlike a lot of canister stoves, the Micro Regulator maintains a constant output regardless of temperatures or canister pressure. One weakness of canister stoves has always been their vulnerability to temperature. This is one reason so many outdoorsmen prefer the Svea. But Soto has solved this problem with a dime sized internal regulator, hence its name.

The OD-lR weighs 2.5 ounces. This is amazing considering the complex technology tucked inside of it. It also folds up to 2 x 2 x 3.2 inches. As shown in the photo below, this allows it to be tucked inside of a standard backpacking cooking pot. It comes in a nylon packing bag with a closing cord, but we laid it in the pot without the bag for this photo.

One of the great advances of the OD-lR is its push botton ignition. Once you have the stove screwed into the cartridge firmly, you turn the handle three revolutions to draw gas into the chamber. Then you push the red button. The stove ignites instantly. There's no fiddling with matches or lighters. In cold, rainy or damp weather, this is a huge advantage.

One disadvantage all canister stoves share is that you have no no way to tell how much fuel remains, since the fuel is colorless and not liquid. So we recommend carrying extra canisters. Another disadvantage is that all the canisters have to be be hauled back out and disposed of properly

Like all canister stoves, you can only use a pot or skillet so big. The span of the stove arms is 3.7 inches. You can sit a pot or pan on the OD-1R as wide as 4.5 inches and remain stable. Most backpacking utensils, like the one in the photo at right, are this size.

As seen in the photo below, on windy days, especially windy days when the chill factor drops below 32 degrees, a windscreen may help. As do most backpackers, we use tin foil. But only wrap it partway around on the side the wind comes from. Do not totally enclose the stove and its cartridge.

The OD-1R puts out 11000 BTUs. This allows you to boil a pot of water water in 2-3 minutes. So a freeze dried entree, a soup or dessert, and a pot of coffee, tea or hot lemonade, could all be prepared in 10 minutes of burning time. This means you should be able to fix nine meals with one cartridge, assuming you fix breakfasts and lunches as elaborately as your dinners. Most backpackers don't, so their cartridge would last longer.

But this means one cartridge should last you a three day weekend. Two should last you six days. Figuring an extra cartridge for backup, this means four cartridges should cover a seven to eight day espedition.

We use our Micro Regulator with our Pinnacle Soloist cooking pot (shown above). It fits very well inside the pot, and the pot fits very safely on the stove. However, there are a dozen other eq1ually compatible cooking pots out there.

To be safe, most backpackers carry matches or a lighter just in case the OD-1R piezo lighter fails, but no one has reported one failing yet after several years of use.

The OD-1R is still available but since we first published this review, it has been joined by two updates, the Amicus OD-INDE and the Windmaster OD-IRX. They improve on the OD-1R by adding a fourth leg, presumably making the pot or skillet more stable, and by reversing the burner from concave to convex, presumably shielding it from wind and increasing efficiency. The two updates also sell for $60-70 at local outdoor stores. The website is Sotooutdoors.com, where more information and photos of all three models can be found.

Thermacell Vanquishes Mosquitoes

Thanks to climate change, rain is becoming much more common, and as a result, hordes of Mosquitoes are keeping many outdoor lovers indoors.

People are more concerned than they used to be because of the additional diseases Mosquitoes are now known to carry. Plus, several long time remedies have fallen into disfavor. DEET and other anti Mosquito oils and sprays are now known to be carcinogenic and are known to soak into the skin. The Citronella candles and other devices have become less effective. And the old "bug zappers" which used a light to attract insects and an electric grid to elecrocute them in a flash and sizzle are now known to be rather unsanitary, sending drops of contaminants spewing in every direction.

People have not lost their interest in hiking, canoeing, and other outdoor pursuits. So they've been looking for solutions.

We think we've found one.

We have to be outside. We make our living there producing Outpost. Not only do we see rain more often and heavier, but because of it there is more water laying around in ponds, puddles and streams between rains. Areas that used to dry out in late Summer now stay wet until cold weather sets in. Areas in the Southwest that were rarely wet are now wet frequently. Areas in the high Rockies where water was locked in ice and snow now has meltwater accumulating in ponds, pools and runoff.

The Mosquito problem is the worst we've ever seen. There are not only more of them, but they're bigger. In Wyoming, Minnesota and Maine they joke about naming the Mosquito the official state bird.

So we've been testing various remedies.

Against all these squadrons of Mosquitoes now arrives the Thermacell. We should state up front that this is not a commercial. Thermacell is not paying us to promote it. We set out to find a Mosquito repellant we could use ourselves and recommend to readers and this is what we found.

Thermacell is basically a diffuser. The home model looks like a lantern, and if you insert three AA batteries it'll work like one, too. We've included the ball point pen in the photos to indicate size. You insert the white plastic butane cartridge into the bottom. Then you open the metallic package, remove the pheromone wafer, and slide it into the top slot. Once you turn on the lantern, the butane burns, rising through the wafer, and diffuses the antiMosquito pheromones into the surrounding air.

You have to turn the lantern on, then go back inside the cabin or tent for about half an hour. After that half an hour, there will be zero Mosquitoes in an area of roughly 15 feet x 15 feet around the lantern, which is easily the size of the typical porch or campfire area.

The Thermacell is not perfect. It doesn't work under all conditions. The biggest condition under which it does not work is air movement. If a breeze is moving across your camp or cabin porch, the Thermacell doesn't work. But of course, if a breeze is blowing, Mosquitoes are usually not a problem anyway. Its effectiveness is also reduced, but not eliminated, if the people within the 15 x 15 area are in constant motion. But again if you or your companions are moving around, Mosquitoes are usually not a problem anyway.

The Thermacell is ideally suited for an evening when a group is setting up camp, fixing dinner, sitting around a campfire or fishing from shore.

For activities away from basecamp, Thermacell offers a belt clip version, seen at right. It loads the same way : the white butane cartridge slides into the base, and the pheromone wafer slides into the top. This is ideal for hikers and backpackers. Thermacell claims it will create a zone around the wearer. We find that as long as you keep walking, it is only about 50% effective. But for use in camp, it's ideal. We can set up camp, turn on the Thermacell, crawl into the tent, zip up the Mosquito netting, take a 30 minute nap, and when we emerge from the tent the campsite is Mosquito free.

We find this mobile device works best laid on the ground, not worn on a belt.

There is a very, very faint trace of butane in the air but not enough to be bothersome.

You can buy the devices separately ($20 each) or as a $40 set from Amazon, Dick's, Cabela's, WalMart or other stores. Either way you receive a starter set of cartridges and wafers. An additional set of 30 wafers and 10 cartridges costs about $50.

Each wafer lasts about four hours. Each butane cartridge lasts about 12 hours. This is true in either the cabin or mobile device.

The lantern and belt worn device are solidly made of heavy duty plastic with very few moving parts to worry about. We've found the Thermacell works better than Citronella or DEET or other sprays on calm evenings.

Interchange Jacket Is Warm, Versatile

Columbia has a reputation for well made outdoor adventure clothing and its Interchange Jacket is one of its best.

This is a three way jacket. A complete fleece jacket is zipped inside. It's good for weather down to about 40 degrees. The waterproof shell can be worn as a rain coat. It's also one of the best windbreakers out there. When zipped together, they produce a toasty garment good down to 20 degrees. If you wear a sweater, flannel shirt or long underwear underneath, the jacket can be worn all day in very cold weather regardless of wind or precipitation. We often wear it with only a t shirt.

The hood is very well made and is completely waterproof but has zero lining. You need to wear some sort of hat inside the hood. Many people wear a wool toboggan hat, but a Russian style "bomber" hat also works well. The hood is sized large enough to allow such a hat. A cord allows you to tighten the hood around your face, and a top velcro strip allows you to adjust its size. If you zip the front all the way up, it closes around your neck and chin very snugly and closes with a snap. The hood can be zipped off and on for wearing the jacket around town.

The zippers are strong, durable and easy to use.

Sleeves are windproof. Elastic cuffs grip the wrists and are inside the velcro adjusted outer cuffs.

The sleeves are generously cut so upper arm movement is unrestricted.

There are six pockets. Two are handwarmer pockets, which zip shut. One is just inside the left chest and also zips shut. A fourth is a large one halfway down the lining and is accessible if you remove the fleece inner jacket and wear the lining as a rain shell. This pocket has no zipper. The other two are on the fleee inner jacket and are accessible if you wear it separately.

There are two long zippered underarm vents. If you're skiing, hiking uphill or doing hard work like chopping wood you'll probabloy use them because it warms up inside. They're easily accessible without taking the jacket off so when you're hiking you can close them hiking downhill and open their hiking uphill. In Spring and Fall you can just leave them wide open all the time.

The bottom has a cord for tightening to keep the jacket windproof.

The jacket comes only in a rich blue with black shoulders.

This is an expensive garment. It usually sells for at least $200, although you can find it for less at large volume outlets.

Since it's not down, it's not compressible. We carry it in our packs, but it does take up space. However, it rolls up fairly compactly.

The Interchange is nylon and polyester so dries quickly. It can be machine washed.

It's a dressy garment. You can wear it about town without looking like you just stepped off the trail even though you may have done just that.

The technology in the Interchange is well thought out. The outside surface is an impenetrable waterproof membrane (Omni-Tech, not Gore Tex) which does not allow moisture to move from outside in. In a rain, water beads up on it (photo, right).

But the membrane allows heat and perspiration to escape from inside out. Meanwhile, that fleece lining wicks perspiration from the skin to the outside membrane, where it passes through. And all seams are sealed, with no gaps.

The inner lining of the shell is a Columbia creation called Omni Heat, as seen in the photo here at left and above left behind the fleece lining. It reflects body heat back inward (while allowing perspiration to pass out) to increase the warmth of the jacket. The patented lining is comprised of a pattern of tiny silver dots with aluminum that reflects a percentage of your radiant, infrared body heat (the heat that you can't see unless using a infrared camera) back onto you to keep you warm. The dots only cover about 33 percent of the fabric, which makes the technology breathable and keeps you from overheating. The dots also have protective polymers to prevent the metal from corroding or coming off in the washing machine or dryer.

Nikon Coolpix L840 Compact Camera

The smart phone has revolutionized photography. Almost everyone now carries a cell phone in their pocket which is capable of taking very good photos. So the field of photography has polarized. Amateurs carry cell phones and professionals carry expensive DSLR cameras with an array of closeup, telephoto, wide angle and other specialized lenses, filters and other accessories. Hikers, canoeists, skiiers and amusement park fans can carry a cell phone in a pocket and use it when needed.

The problem is, with all their features, no matter how skillful a user is, a cell phone has limits. It does not do well with motion, low light, distance or closeups. And a cell phone photo, when enlarged, loses sharpness.

But a DSLR camera is too big and all those lenses, filters and accessories are impossible to carry on a trail, river, ski slope or other adventure site. Some sort of compromise is needed.

Enter the Nikon Coolpix L840. This great little device offers the best of both worlds. It is very lighrweight. It fits easily in a backpack or day pack or even a parka pocket. It can be carried in a chestpack or belt holster. It weighs so little it adds almost no weight to a neck, shoulder or waist.

What you lose with the L840 is the ability to change lenses or add filters or special lighting or manually control all the settings.

The L840 is not waterproof or drop proof but it can take a lot of jostling and bouncing around in a pack or parka pocket and can be used in a fog or light rain, bitter cold or intense heat.

We've used this camera for three years here at Outpost. Many photos you see on the various pages were taken with it. In print, we've enlarged some of them significantly for use on covers or front pages and they've held their resolution.

The L840's finest feature is its 38x 855mm optical telephoto lens. It's actually better than the typical telephoto lens you buy for a DSLR camera. (Yes, of coutse, those $2000 lenses surpass it, but the typical amateur only pays $250-500 for a telephoto, and this one surpasses those.)

If you plan to take wildlife photos while out there on the trail or river, you should invest in a tripod. The telephoto will give amazing closeups but at that distance you'll lose some resolution if you handhold it, especially if you're capturing a bird in flight or an animal running.

If you're an experienced photographer and look very closely, you can see a slight aberration around the edges of the L840's photos when enlarged, but the casual viewer will never notice.

The camera is well designed and balances very nicely in the hand. As you can see in the photo at right, your right hand will fit entirely around the knob, which is covered in a textured rubber for a great grip even if wet.

For closeups, a powerful flash unit pops up automatically from the top of the camera.

The shutter is a second slow, but you quickly learn to anticipate this and press the button slightly earlier. We've used the L840 to photograph dirt track races as well as football, basketball and baseball games, surfers, amusement park rides, rodeos, skiiers and white water rafters with good results.

The camera does offer a burst mode, allowing you to take a series of seven shots a split second apart and pick the best one later.

The L840 includes a Vibration Reduction feature that helps you capture motion.

A 16.0 megapixel sensor is far better than anything in a smart phone.

There's a Wi-Fi connectivity. But we just open the door, remoce the SD card, insert it into our computer, and download the photos. We then use either IPhoto or Photoshop to crop and process them.

There are nine filter effects, 18 scene modes and a sweep panorama fiunction. You can even take 30 second movies.

As you can see in the photo at left, instead of a viewfinder the L840 has a high resolution three inch LCD screen. For normal shots the screen lays flat on the camera. But for holding the camera below your knees or above your head you can slide the screen down or up and fold it out, so you can focus with it.

You can do some photo editing within the camera, although nowhere near as much as in IPhoto or Photoshop.

The camera uses four AA batteries. One set produces about 500 photos.

The camera's vulnerability is that LCD screen. If you drop it on concrete or rocks, everything else usually survives, but the LCD screen cracks easily on impact. Once it does, there's no repairing it. Nikon considers it less expensive to buy a new camera than to fix the LCD screen.

The L840 can usually be purchased for around $200. There's a higher model with more features for about $400.

Sincd this review was first published, Nikon has come out with a newer version, the B500. It has a 40x telephoto, slightly more powerful, and a faster shutter. It offers SnapBridge, which allows you to maintain a constsnt Bluetooth connection with your cell phone, so as you take a photo it immediately shows up on your phone. It retails for $299.

The L840 is available in the red shown here and black. The B500 is only available in black.