Equipment Reviews
Lightweight Camping Tarp Offers Several Options

Camping trends change. The newest fad is an item last popular 100 years ago : the Tarp. One of the new, state of the art Tarps is by Jacob's Well in Texas. It's a 9' x 9' square of Silnylon, itself a new material. Silnylon, a blend of silicone and nylon, is a synthetic fabric designed specifically for lightweight outdoor gear. It is made by impregnating a thin woven nylon fabric with liquid silicone from both sides. This makes it strong for its weight, as the silicone substantially improves the tear strength. It is also extremely waterproof and long lasting.

Tarps are coming back into fashion because of the current move toward ultralightweight backpacking. The days of carrying 50 or 60 pounds are long gone. Today 30 pounds is considered the maximum and many are getting their weights down to 20 pounds or even something in the teens.

Doing this means lightweight stoves, sleeping bags, rain gear and tents. And many hikers, bikers and canoeists are leaving tents at home and carrying only a tarp.

Used as a replacement for a tent, a tarp can be pitched in five different ways : as an A frame, a Lean To, a Wedge, an Adirondack, or a Teepee. With a groundcloth and a "bivuoac," a coccoon a sleeping bag slips into, a tarp works well enough. The "bivvy sac" includes mosquito netting.

But tent lovers and the new hammock campers also love tarps. They offer an increased layer of rain protection in this time of increasingly ferocious storms. They also add years to a tent once its original waterproof coating begins to wear. Buying a tarp for $50 - 70 is better than buying a whole new tent for several hundred. The tent continues to provide privacy, protection from insects and various creatures, and warmth, and the tarp deflects rain and wind. During clear days in the open, it also provides shade and a cooling effect.

Several companies offer modern tarps, but Jacob's Well, a new American company, offers one of the best. As the photo below right shows, it comes with eight coils of cord, seven heavy stakes and eight light stakes. Two of the cords are 8' long, two are 6', and the rest are 4'.

This mix of stakes and cords allows flexibility in how one pitches the tarp. You can hang it from trees or hiking sticks or stake corners down to the ground. At the top right we've pitched it over our trusty 1970s Gerry's Lodgepole tent. Above left we've removed the tent and hung a hammock underneath. Normally, you would raise the tarp and hang the hammock higher. We also know campers who use the tarp as a dining fly. They pitch it well away from their tents and cook and eat under it. As long as it's 6-8' high, a backpacking stove or reasonably sized cooking fire isn't going to threaten it. If you want a bonfire or larger fire for heat, you can build that under the open sky.

The photo below shows how well the tarp is made. Notice the extra stitching coming across to strengthen the corner, which has to absorb tugging and pulling in high wind. This photo also shows the fasteners attached at each corner and down each side. We've added loops of string because we usually pitch the tarp as an A frame, using the larger stakes to fasten the corners down to the ground.

Also notice the double stitched edging at left. This extends all the way around the edge of the tarp. Finally, notice the classic ripstopping in the silnylon fabric. That's the grid of tiny squares you see across the entire surface. This is a pretty tough fabric, but if you did find a way to puncture it, this grid would prevent the hole from extending anywhere.

So this is a particularly durable tarp.

Many campers will figure out their favorite way of pitching it and only take those stakes and cords for that way. And some leave all the stakes at home and find branches where they camp, cutting stakes from them. We take the whole bag, because we never know what kind of campsite we may encounter, and this gives us maximum flexibility.

The tarp, stakes and cords combined weigh two pounds, reasonable for the value they provide.

You can order from

Swanndri Bush Shirt Is The Best Of Its Kind

In the world of outdoor equipment, certain items have become legendary. The Svea Stove, Vasque Sundowner Boots, Universal Loadmaster Packs, Walrus Tents and Camp Seven Sleeping Bags are iconic. They have proven themselves around the world for half a century and are the gold standard to which all other equipment is compared.

Add to that the Swanndri Bush Shirt. Made in New Zealand, this is the ultimate cold weather garment. It doesn't resemble anything modern, but harkens back to Native American, Viking, French Voyageur and other historic adventurers' clothing. William Broome designed it in 1913 for Australian and New Zealand farmers, hunters, loggers and adventurers.

It might be described as Low Tech. It's made of Wool. But this is not any wool. It's Merino Wool, woven from the wool of New Zealand sheep, which evolved long ago to produce a wool that is more water resistant, thicker and more flexible than other wools.

As a result, if you get caught out in a rain or a very wet snow, the water will simply bead up on the outside of the Swanndri and you'll stay dry and warm inside. Yes, the garment will get somewhat heavier with the weight of all those tiny drops of water, but as you hike, shovel snow, ski or move about you'll shake some of them off.

The Swanndri Bush Shirt comes in red, blue or green plaid, or in solid green. It's 3/4 length, coming down to or just below your knees.

It's made roomy, so you can wear a turtleneck, sweater or shirt underneath. Everybody's metabolism differs, so you'll need to experiment a few times to figure out your ideal combinations.

But we've shovelled snow and gone hiking with just a t shirt inside and stayed warm in 40 and 30 degree weather. We add a turtleneck as temperatures drop into the 20s, a regular sweater down into the teens and a ski sweater into single digits. But activity level matters. Sitting still at a football game or while fishing requires an undergarment earlier, while hiking, skiing, sledriding or shoveling snow generates enough internal heat you won't need one as soon.

The Bush Shirt utilizes a trick the Eskimos stumbled onto a couple of thousand years ago. It has a second layer which hangs inside like an internal sleeve.

This creates an extra pocket of air which surrounds your body. After 5-10 minutes your own body heat warms this pocket and it becomes an extra layer of insulation. This layer is also made of Merino wool but is much thinner.

For this trick to work, the inner layer must hang loosely. This means you have to carefully put your arms up through to find the armholes and after you pull it on you have to pull that layer down since it will bunch up.

This requires a certain patience. There's no zipper down the front. It's a classic anorak style, so you pull it on and take it off overhead. It's awkward to get into and out of the first half dozen times, but eventually you learn to do it smoothly.

But once it's on it's like a fortress. You'll stay warm no matter what. The U.S. issues these to its forces in the Antarctic. Several other nations issue them to their forces who have to operate in cold weather regions.

It's great for watching football games. Since it comes down so far, it protects your legs and knees from those icy winds that often blow through stadiums in late October and November. You can lace the front up and pull the hood forward and be quite comfortable while fans around you are shivering or running for hot coffee.

The Bush Shirt only has one pocket, up on the chest. It holds binoculars or your cell phone or portable radio. We wish it had the handwarmer pocket common on other anoraks, but many of its users carry packs, and the belt straps from the packs block those pockets, so Swanndri omitted them.

If the wind quiets down and the sun comes out, you simply drop the hood back and unlace the front placket to ventilate your Bush Shirt. Unlike modern high tech polyester fabrics, the Merino Wool breathes quite well, so you'll still feel comfortable even as the sun warms the stadium.

With the fabric coming down behind you to your knees, you won't be sitting on cold steel seats. If you don't take your own cushion or blanket with you, the thick wool gives you a little cushioning to sit on.

If you're one of those people who are always cold, the Bush Shirt is roomy enough you could easily wear a ski sweater underneath to crank up the heat even further.

It's hiking or backpacking where the Bush Shirt really excels.

The pack strap, as mentioned, becomes a sort of belt. The loose fit of the Bush Shirt does not interfere with your legs moving, not even if you're climbing steep hills. As you begin to exert more energy and warm up, you can unlace the front placket and/or throw back the hood to cool down a bit.

Even though the Bush Shirt is water repellant, to avoid the extra weight of water droplets beaded up on its outside while hiking, we always carry a large rain poncho to pull on over it in case of rain.

When you stop for lunch or a mid morning or mid afternoon snack, you can sit down and tuck your legs up under you and be completely protected by the Bush Shirt.

The loose fit is ideal for heavy physical activity like skiing, sledriding or shovelling snow. This photo was taken on a 15 degree day. We've added a fur bomber hat, sometimes called a Russian hat, underneath the hood. You can see the fur sticking out around our chin and face.

But the loose fit allows us to easily maneuver the snow shovel. We've worn the Bush Shirt skiing and sledriding and it does not interfere with our movements.

The garment was originally designed for farmers, sheep herders, loggers and outdoor adventurers so allowing extensive movement was essential.

Stories of the Bush Shirt's durability are legendary. Families in Australia and New Zealand talk of handing them down for 2-3 generations. You don't usually have to clean it, but if you do, instructions are available for home laundering. Since it's wool, you do have to be careful of shrinkage. However, Do Not Wash It In A Washing Machine. It Will Destroy The Water Repellency.

Swanndri makes a separate model just for girls and women, called The Seattle. But it's not as good as the original Bush Shirt. Girls and women are better off to just order a Bush Shirt in a size Small or Medium. Men's sizes go all the way up to Large, X Large, XX Large and XXX Large. If you insist, there is a model available with a zipper down the front. But in cold temperatures, especially below 20 degrees, that zipper, like all zippers, lets cold in. To order, go to It's pricey, but remember this is the finest garment of its kind in the world, and will probably be handed down to children and grandchildren.

American Hatmakers Offer A Classy Broad Brimmed Straw

Summers keep getting longer and hotter, and concerns over skin cancer snd cataracts keep increasing. Hats are back in style, both as a fashion and as a means of protecting the skin and the eyes.

American Hat Makers is now one of the the top hat makers in the United States. It is a handcrafting hat manufacturer founded by Gary Watrous in 1972. The company is based out of a 17,000 sq ft facility in Watsonville, California. It offers several different lines, including Freedom Hats, which makes hats actors and actresses have worn on various movies and TV shows.

American makes both felt and straw hats in Western and urban styles. But it has earned a solid reputation for its straw models. It presses its hats twice and infuses them with a coat of lacquer both times. And the lacquer they use is oil based. This double oil based lacquering makes the hats absolutely waterproof and gives them a durability beyond what any other hat can match.

The hats are hand cut, hand stitched, hand formed, and hand trimmed for a meticulous finish. They're not cheap (the Florence reviewed here costs $57), but such a hat is an investment. It will last a lifetime, and to make sure it does it carries an unconditional lifetime guarantee.

American's latest Freedom model, the Florence, is a classic. It features a 3.5" inch brim, wide enough to shield the eyes, face, ears and neck but not so wide as to become unwieldy or look extreme.

It's lightweight. The 4 inch crown with a 2.5" perforated area allows air to circulate to keep the head cool. There's a strap with adjustable slider to keep the hat snug in wind. If you don't want it you can tuck it up inside the crown.

This is not a cowboy hat or an Indiana Jones hat. It's a Panama style. It is not meant to be shaped into a rodeo style, or country music style. The lacquer waterproofing prevents you from bending up the sides or bending down the front and back. Steaming it fails to penetrate the lacquer.

Instead, it's a classy urban style, meant to be worn on a Kentucky horse farm or a beach vacation or on your evening walk. It's the style of broad brimmed hat that was worn by ranch owners and managers, not the cowboys who drove the cattle and did the manual labor. It's also very close to the level brim worn by park rangers and forest rangers and some law enforcement officers.

The brim comes precast with the front and back very slightly turned down and the sides ever so slightly turned up.

If you get caught out in a sudden Summer rain, the Florence is completely waterproof.

It comes in a tan color and, thanks to that lacquer finish, it's going to keep that color for a very long time. Anything spilled on it will just bead up and roll off.

The wind may tug at it, but the brim won't flop around.

The hats are sized accurately, but each hat comes with a pair of adjustable inserts, one half size, one full size. If needed, you velcro the insert in place.

There's a very nice, handsewn elastic mesh hat band that grips your head and helps keep the hat in place in high winds.The 4" crown will allow you to wear the hat in a typical large pickup truck or SUV. But you'll have to take it off in a sedan, sports car or small pickup truck. There's a dark brown vinyl decorative band circling the bse of the crown.

You can order yours at in either tan (shown here) or cream. The Florence ships out the day you order. Record readers who order the Florence should include the code Outpost15 for a 15% discount. On the shipping page, the code goes into the box in the right hand column.

Updated L.L. Bean Anorak Is A Winner

Periodically, L.L. Bean releases its famous Mountain Anorak. The most recent was back in the 1980s and 1990s. Hikers, backpackers, fishermen, canoeists, football fans, outdoor workers, and people just wanting it to wear around town bought them up as fast as Bean could make them. Then, for whatever reason, Bean stopped making them, and for the next two decades people kept wearing the old ones or buying them used off EBay and Amazon.

Now, finally, Bean is again producing the Mountain Anorak. This one is an updated version, with several minor tweaks that make it better rhan ever. The photo at right shows the women's version of the new one. The photos below are all of the men's version. Both men's and women's versions are available in various color block mixes, or in a solid black.

An Anorak is an old Eskimo design that had been adapted by Native American tribes across the continent by the time White settlers began arriving from Europe. It's a pullover with a hood and a zipper extending a third of the way down the chest. The fact that there is no zipper, buttons, snaps or other opening down the front means an anorak is warmer and drier than a traditional jacket.

This particular anorak is a "shoulder season" windshirt. It is ideal in Fall and Spring weather, during milder Winter weather, or for short periods in harsher weather. Bean and other manufacturers make other anoraks designed for bitter cold or heavy rain. This one is described as wind and rain resistant, not wind and rain proof.

There's a reason for this. You can be active in this anorak without getting hot and clammy. Any garment that is made tight enough to seal wind and rain completely out traps body heat and perspiration in. In this anorak, you can hike, cast, chop wood, rake leaves, mow the lawn, cross country ski or pull a sled up a hill without getting uncomfortable.

To keep you warm and block the wind, L.L. Bean has lined the Mountain Anorak with Primaloft. As you can see in the photo at left, it's quilted into both the body and the hood.

Primaloft was developed for the U.S. Army as a synthetic down. It lofts like down but, unlike down, retains its loft and insulating properties when wet. So even if you get caught out in a downpour, and rain begins seeping in, you'll still stay warm.

Primaloft is also very light. This allowed L.L.Bean to make this updated anorak thinner and lighter than its beloved predecessor. So you can pack it, in a backpack or travel pack, very compactly.

The Mountain Anorak has a large Kangaroo Pocket for carrying a cell phone, map, gloves or whatever else. When hiking, backpacking, fishing or watching a football game, we prefer to pack a waterproof poncho. If we get caught in a downpour, we just put on the poncho, and everything is fine.

Behind the Kangaroo Pocket is a large handwarmer sleeve.

There's a cinching cord around the waist so you can adjust it to seal out the cold and fit properly.

The cuffs are elasticized for a tight fit at the wrists.

The hood has a cinching cord which lets you adjust it. It's a generous cut hood which comes far forward to shield your face from rain. However, it can actually come down so far as to block your view. Some users wear a baseball cap. Others flip up the hood's outer edge.

If you get caught in a hard rain, the Mountain Anorak will hold it it out for about 15 minutes, then begin letting some in. So wearing it in town, where you'll move from car to house or store, or from one store to the next, will be fine. It works fine for a college student moving from one classroom building to the next.

But it's resistant enough to keep out snow. We've worn ours skiing and sledriding, for examples, with no problem. If you're going to sit at a football game in bitter cold, just add a wool sweater before pulling on the anorak.

A flannel shirt or turtle neck under it is usually enough in 30-40 degree weather. A T shirt is enough on 50-60 degree days.

The zipper can be raised or lowered to regulate temperature as the day warms up or cools down.

One reason this anorak is beloved by so many is its durability. We've beaten our 1980 version around for almost 40 years and it still looks like new. We've taken it hiking, backpacking, fishing, canoeing, rafting, skiing, sledriding, bicycling, working in the lawn and garden, gathering wood, and working on the house. It still fits, still keeps us warm and dry, and is still wind and water resistant. One high risk spot on such garments is always the shoulders, as pack straps can wear fabrics pretty quickly. We've worn daypacks and long distance backpacks for 40 years with the 1980s version and the shoulders are still in great shape.

When it gets dirty, you wash your anorak at home, using delicate cycle, mild detergent, and tumble dry on low. It will take the Primaloft a few hours to fully dry but if you needed you could wear it right away as it stays warm even when wet and your body heat will help dry it.

The nylon shell is surprisingly soft. The anorak can be folded into a fine pillow on camping trips.

The 1980s-90s version, which used Thinsulate for its insulation, was made in Freeport, Maine. This one is made in Thailand, which offends some buyers. But assembling it in Asia is the only way to keep the price down to its surprising $50-60 range. Made in America under 2020 wage conditions would at least double the price.

Find your nearest L.L.Bean outlet by going to their website and typing in your zip code. We advise buying this anorak in an actual store, since you have to get the fit right for it to work. However, if you buy it online, most people prefer a size up, to allow for layering with a sweater or flannel shirt. Fortunately, if you buy it online, Bean has a generous return and exchange policy. The anoraks shown in these photos are Medium Regulars and we have a flannel shirt on underneath.

Sunday Afternoon Ultra Adventure Storm Hat

Anyone who spends time outdoors needs a good hat. But a good hat is hard to find. Sunday Afternoons (yes, that's the company's name) has studied the hat idea and gathered together the best features of all the other hats out there into one model : their Ultra Adventure Storm Hat. It won't replace your Winter hat, but it's the best we've seen for the other three seasons.

It's extremely light weight, only 2.9 ounces. The fabric has a UPF 50+ Sun Rating. It's water and stain resistant. There's a wicking sweatband to soak up perspiration and evaporate it up through the crown. The entire crown is porous, allowing for heat to escape quickly. A headband is adjustable, so you can cinch it perfectly to fit. A chin strap keeps it in place in any reasonable wind. The 3 1/4 brim is wide enough to keep all sun out of your eyes. A six inch nylon cape drapes down from the rear to protect your neck.

It's also a rain hat. It's 100% waterproof. The brim conceals three wire reinforcing lengths. The neck cape keeps rainwater from dropping down into your collar.

There's a clever seam in the crown which allows it to be folded so the entire hat can fit into the pocket of a pack or rain jacket. There's no rear brim to bump against your backpack or against the headrest in your vehicle.

We tested this hat in six locations : the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Appalachian Trail coming through the Peaks of Otter section, the Pennsylvania woods, and Wyoming's Wind River Wilderness. It worked perfectly in all locations with two exceptions: deep sea fishing and atop the Continental Divide in the Wind Rivers. The wind was extreme. The strap and tightened head band kept the hat on, but the brim flapped around to the point where the hat was unusable. However, you're not going to encounter gale force winds hiking a forest trail, fishing on Lake Erie, canoeing, rafting or backpacking the Grand Canyon. In those conditions, this is the perfect hat.

You can order it online at

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 1984.

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, 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 course, 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, remove 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.

Since 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 constant 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.