PVC Canoe Rack

While doing some research on PVC canoe racks and truck bed canopies, I ran across this detailed build-along I thought some might enjoy. Definitely a cheaper alternative than dropping $400 on a manufactured setup...


I try to make product endorsements in my writing rare. After all, I want my focus to be on the knowledge and skills before the gear. That said, there are a handful of items in my past and current usage that have surprised me enough to make them worth mentioning and recommending.

Today, it's a set of Merrell boots. I purchased a pair of leather Chameleons in early 2002 that are still functioning today. I have put hundreds of walked miles on these boots, and they have only required minor repairs. Do they show the wear? Absolutely. But they are still comfortable, the original soles are still on there, they still grip the rocks like they mean it, the lace hooks and eyelets are still attached. In fact, the only part I have had to replace has been the laces. A little adhesive reinforcement to the soles now and then, and other than that almost maintenance free. I'm not a footwear fanatic, and at $120 they are still the most expensive set of shoes I have ever purchased. But at about $12/year, I consider that a good return.

Southeast School of Survival - Wilderness Survival Part II

After completing the navigation and orienteering portion of the class, the afternoon of the 22nd was spent learning a series of knots that would be useful in the primitive shelters we would be constructing. I am not going to spend a lot of time explaining the hows and whys of the shelter we constructed. It was a simple lean-to style that took a surprisingly long time to put together. After learning the major techniques on the group shelter construction project, each student was given the option and equipment to build their own shelter. Now all of us knew it was going to be dipping into the 30's that night, so building a quality shelter was pretty high on the to-do list. I don't think any of the students ended up sleeping in an entirely natural shelter. Most slept in lean-to or a-frame type shelters using tarps, a ridgepole(s), and supplementing the insulation with pine straw and natural materials.

Once the shelters were finished, Jim demonstrated the skinning and cleaning methods for small game.

By the time we were finished with the skinning and cleaning, we wrapped the day up with dinner, a thorough discussion on building a personal survival kit and the contents of Jim's setup, and a brief introduction to identifying constellations and their uses in navigation.

October 23, 2011
Sunday started early with a thick fog rolling in off of the lake. My shelter was made in a low area of the camp and was completely buried in the fog. Overall, my shelter stayed warm enough, although much colder than the 30's and it would have been a miserable night. I ended up closing off one end of my shelter to try to cut down on the draft through the slanted a-frame design. After a cup of coffee and a light breakfast, Jim jumped right back into the training.

First topic of the day: firecraft! Beginning with man-made tinders and moving through those options and on into naturally occurring tinders, he explained and demonstrated firesteels, chemical reactions, structure, the three required components for fire, dealing with wet materials, the concepts of friction fire, a few unconventional methods, and on. We were given the chance to try out all of the different starting methods. Most took the opportunity to try out one of the firesteel types, but one of the guys there patiently managed to get a fire going using a magnifying glass. None of us were too successful with the bow drill friction method. Seriously, if that is the method you are reduced to, you might be in trouble. It is apparently a tremendous amount of either effort, skill, or both to get actual flames, and not just smoke, from that thing.

During the rest of the afternoon, we covered a range of topics: snares, basic wilderness first aid, seepage wells, edible plants, more rope and knot work, a couple of surprise skill tests, and signalling.All in all, an excellent two days of practical, non-hyped survival skills and instruction. There were a few obligatory discussions regarding the plausibility of techniques made popular by current survival shows that we all hesitantly admit we watch and enjoy.

Jim is a great instructor - balancing the seriousness of the subject matter with the easy manner required to teach a bunch of us city people. Having been through survival training before, I was hopeful that it would be a good chance to brush up on my skills - I wasn't disappointed and learned a really good amount of new information. I could go on about the value of the course and the instructor, but if you are local to Atlanta, as a good number of this site's visitors are, take a look at Southeast School of Survival. It will not be wasted time, even if you are already an experienced woodsman. And once you've been through the basic course, there is also an Advanced Survival Exercise:

"This 4 day training is a Survival Exercise for those who have completed the Wilderness Survival Training with the Southeast School of Survival (Other survival school courses are not accepted). This exercise is designed to give the student the opportunity to practice being in a situation that is as similiar to a survival situation as we can get. A Survival Training Instructor will accompany the students along every step of their journey. You will experience survival by being given scenarios, while at the same time trying to prioritize basic needs of a survivor. You will be in the deep woods of the North Georgia Mountains. You will be navigating through very rough terrain using a map & compass only. All the items you bring will be carried in improvised packs. You will be building emergency survival shelters and practicing bushcraft work in a static camp environment. You will be taught global principles of survival, and be practicing primitive survival skills along every step of the way. You will practice emergency survival first-aid on yourself and on each other while at the same time trying to accomplish required tasks for survival. You will be required to bring certain items for safety purposes, but in order to simulate a realistic survival environment, you will only be allowed to use them in an actual emergency."

A few more misc pics....

Shaving fatwood

Bow drill

Basic loop snare placed near a burrow
Picking out game trails

Southeast School of Survival - Wilderness Survival Part I

Over this past weekend, I attended the Wilderness Survival Course put together by Jim Green at Southeast School of Survival (SE-SOS) near Cartersville, Georgia. Jim is a former Air Force Combat Survival Instructor, and has spent over 30 years learning and teaching the survival disciplines (full bio here). His school operates inside Red Top Mountain State Park with special arrangements from the park allowing use of their entire primitive grounds and the land surrounding it for instruction and practice.

The course ran over Saturday and Sunday during the coldest weekend we have had so far this fall - temps were forecast to be in the mid-30's during the night, but were beautiful during the day.

Saturday morning began with the twelve attendees as well as Jim meeting at the park and spending a few minutes meeting one another and receiving some overview information from Jim about what we could expect from the course. Each attendee spent a short time explaining their background and purpose in attending. It was made apparent that a wide range of outdoor experience was represented. After a bit of getting to know everyone, Jim launched right into the start of the instruction - beginning land navigation.

Ten years ago, I was thoroughly taught and tested in land navigation by the former military instructors at the ALERT Academy in Big Sandy, TX. Land navigation was a critical component of the search and rescue and disaster relief work we were trained for, and it was a major point of instruction at the academy. However, since that time, my navigation reliance has been on either GPS or on familiarity with the territory to such an extent that virtually all of my navigation ability was lost.

Jim began from zero, and over the course of the next hour or so explained and demonstrated the main points of navigation - variation between magnetic and true north and how to compensate for the difference, understanding map contour and geographical features, calculating distance on a map,  determining pace count, compass features and use, and also offered sources for quality navigation tools and maps. After the thorough explanation and demonstrations, we ran through a series of hypothetical point-to-point navigations using the park map where the students were asked to explain their calculations and describe the terrain that would be encountered along the route. Once all of us were able to reassure Jim that we had a grasp of the concepts, the fun real fun began!

I wasn't aware of it, but Red Top Mountain has an established orienteering course running through a portion of the park. It is composed of a series of white way-points zigzagging through the woods and crossing various obstacles, including a finger of the lake on one leg. As students, our assigned task was to take turns leading the group in navigating from our current location to any way-point of Jim's choosing. Alternating assignments were broken out among the group for each leg to include two navigators, two pace counters, and a back-up navigator at the rear of the group to periodically double-check the heading. The recurring theme from Jim was 'Before you start walking, double check from scratch your map orientation, heading, and distance. After that, trust your compass.'

After completing a series of legs across the Red Top course, we were broken into teams of four and assigned to navigate to the point where our morning had begun without direct instructor supervision - an Intro to Navigation Final Exam of sorts. All three teams successfully reached the start point, but interestingly, my team was made up of two "lefties" - both navigators for this leg. Our team finished noticeably to the left of the two teams that were made up of "right-handers." It was explained that it is typical for the "handedness" of a navigator to have an effect on their path for reasons as simple as how a right vs. left handed person naturally goes around a tree. Good stuff!

Part II of this course

Red Top Mountain Day Trip

My son, Jack, and I spent a little time at the local state park a couple of Saturdays ago. The weather was amazing, and the wife needed a little peace, so we left her at home and made an afternoon of it. I couldn't believe those short little legs could keep up, but he was running up and down the trails, over the rocks, and everything. He was intent on increasing the water level of the lake by the sheer number of rocks he added. A few pics...

Setting The Pace

"Pace counting" can be a useful method of measuring the distance you have covered or the travel between landmarks and waypoints. The method involves measuring your own step length and calculating that to convert to miles/kilometers.

To begin, get in your car. I'm not kidding! We need to measure off a distance of 1/10 of a mile (176 yards). If you have a way to measure this distance without using your car odometer, great. If not, my method involves using a trip odometer on my car. Use your mailbox or whatever as a start point, clear the trip odometer, then travel .1 miles and mark the spot. Now we can actually measure out our pace.

From your mailbox/start point, step off with your left foot first. As you complete your second step and your right foot hits the ground, that marks the completion of your first "pace." Continue walking forward, counting each time you complete a step with your right foot. Once you have walked the entire 176 yard length, note the number of "paces" it took you to cross the distance. Now turn around and starting off with your left foot again, recheck your stride by counting your right foot steps only. If you complete your second crossing of the 176 yards with the same number of steps, you have your pace count. If the number is different, feel free to repeat and then average the totals. As you walk, try not to take unusually large steps. Just walk like normal. It may actually help to wear your loaded pack as you measure. Your stride will vary when you are loaded with a burden as opposed to free and light.

So what do you have at the end of this exercise? You now know how many steps it takes you to cross 1/10 of a mile on smooth terrain. If it took you 105 paces in the exercise, then you know it will take you 1050 paces to cross one entire mile. Is it exact? No, but it can be very close and allows a good mental calculation of distance traveled.

The Paracordist version
Pace counter beads can be really helpful in keeping track of your counting. Each time you reach your 1/10 mile pace sum, slide a bead down/across. After moving your tenth bead, you have traveled a mile! The Paracordist makes a pretty cool set of paracord pace count beads using just paracord for the lanyard and the beads themselves.

A couple additional factors that may affect your pace are broken or inclined terrains. Most people take shorter steps when walking both downhill or uphill than they do when walking on level terrain. Scrambling over rocks also makes this measurement a challenge. Adding 15-20% on top of your normal pace count is a good estimation of the increase these types of terrain can have on your pace.

Dual Survival

I have been going through season 1 of Dual Survival the past few weeks since Netflix added it to their instant streaming service. I have so far been reluctantly impressed with most of the survival content on the show. Yes, there are still occasional unnecessary risks and drama inserted into the show to make it more exciting and watchable. At this point, I consider that as almost inevitable in survival tv. But as two serious survival experts, Cody and Dave both present their approaches at survival effectively.

My skills and survival training usually falls more to the Dave side, but Cody's naturalist knowledge and techniques are the ones I want to develop. Here is a brief explanation from his website by Cody on why he goes barefoot during these episodes and in everyday life.

"Why do you go barefoot?"
"I like my feet tough. Prisoners of war were always stripped of their shoes as without them they were less likely to run. Going barefoot forces me to pay attention to my environment. I see more, I have better focus, I feel a greater connection to the planet; all very valuable survival traits. On the “everyday life” side of things, the majority of the situations in my life do not require footwear…so why would I consume a resource when it’s not necessary? I also like the challenge"
Am I going to get rid of my shoes or try barefoot hiking? No way, but I like his philosophy of forcing himself to move slower, to notice his surroundings.

Fire Roasted Squirrel - Madison Parker

And here is some very pertinent information on eating squirrel in response to the original SurvivalBlog article. I was interested to learn:
"Without this fat you have wasted the energy held within. Many of your trappers in the 18th century died of starvation while eating scores of rabbits, I would not want the mistakes of history to be repeated by those who do not know them."

Like hanging on a clothesline

I am a recent convert to the world of hammock camping. I watched it begin to become popular a few years ago and had little interest. I couldn't imagine how they could be comfortable to sleep in for more than just an hour or so. It seemed like any of the sleeping positions would be just a killer on your back over the course of a night. I prefer my body to resemble the letter "i," not "u."

During a camping trip with a friend of mine who is pretty enthusiastic about his gear, I witnessed their use firsthand. This good friend spends significantly more time reading about, pondering, and studying his gear than using it, so in the days leading up to the trip, he reminded me of the advantages to his hammock and shelter setup over my small tarp. I was impressed with what a compact unit it all compressed into. Small and light. His hammock performed just fine (as did my ridge-line rig and tarp!), and since he was able to fully stand up the next morning, I grudgingly admitted that it did have some merit, particularly in regard to keeping you out of easy reach of critters and crawlers and the ground in general.

So I picked up a Grand Trunk hammock from Campmor a few months later since I am way too cheap to spring for an Eno or a Hennessey until I am completely sure it is going to be a method I want to stick with. The Grand Trunk has proved more that capable to handle the terrain and use I have thrown at it so far. It came with suspension cordage and is admirably small itself. Paired with a 8'x6' Ace hardware tarp suspended across the length of the hammock, the 10' diagonal perfectly covers the 9.5' length of the Grand Trunk.

Several advantages I have observed in my few months of hammock camping:
  • Much easier to set up both the hammock and canopy than most tents I have owned
  • Lightweight
  • The Grand Trunk model is quite affordable
  • Very portable to keep in a BOB
  • Keeps you off the ground which is good for avoiding critters, water, mud, uneven ground, etc.
  • Unlike a tent, you can mostly avoid anyone trying to share a hammock with you. They are pretty conclusively one-person rigs
  • Hammocks don't smash the plant life and ground cover, leaving less trace
  • Actually very comfortable to sleep in. If the support lines are drawn tight, you can comfortably sleep on your back or either side. Sleeping on your stomach doesn't work.
Down sides:
  • Can be hard/awkward to get in and out of, especially in the dark
  • Not typically as warm as a ground shelter, mine is definitely a 2 season setup

If you are on the fence about hammock-ing, here are a couple of other good reading links:

Bear hunter accidentally killed by companion

This article was shared by a member of BushcraftUSA.
"...early in the day Bell shot and wounded what he thought was a black bear, which are less aggressive than grizzly bears.
Bell and Stevenson waited about 15 minutes until they thought the bear had died, then tracked the 400-pound grizzly into thick cover, according to Stevenson's mother, Janet Price.
When the bear turned on the men, Stevenson yelled at the animal to distract it and keep it from attacking Bell, Price said.
When the animal instead went after Stevenson, Bell fired multiple shots trying to kill the animal, Bowe said.
It was unclear how many times the bear was hit, or whether the bullet that killed Stevenson had first hit the bear..."

Read more: http://ravallirepublic.com/news/local/article_4c1c9c15-f292-53f6-838d-a03820bfd249.html#ixzz1aDm9K8B6

Lyme Disease

More than snakes, more than bears, more than wild pigs, the animal that I spend the most time on the lookout for when I am out in the woods is the tick. I don't think I can adequately explain to you how much I dislike these little guys. Not only are they tiny, sneaky, durable, and camouflaged, they can also spread disease.

The rate of transmission is quite low but does vary across the country with the fewest occasions occuring in the southeast. Transmission rates increase during the summer months. As with most insects they are more active and mobile during the warmer days. Additionally, more people are in the field during those warmer, vacation times so human exposure to ticks is part of the equation. It's a relatively new disease, first seen in the US in 1975.

The most indentifiable symptom of Lyme disease is the expanding, target shaped pattern seen around the bite area. It starts as red irritation and then moves outward from the bite as a ring of red, irritated skin. Additionally, itching across the entire body and a fever usually go with the territory along with other flu-ish symptoms. As the condition goes untreated, the disease can move into more severe symptoms such as paralysis, swelling at the joints, lack of coordination, and tingling.

Because the symptoms can be somewhat vague and slow to present themselves, I am all about prevention as opposed to treatment. Ticks like to hang on to the ends of extending brush and wait for a blood-filled creature to walk past that they can latch on to. They are also known to drop from above from trees and branches, but I am not certain whether that is a planned method of latching onto prey or if sometimes they just get lucky. That pretty much sums up the extent of their plan of attack, so defending yourself from ticks can be fairly simple.

First the obvious tip:
  • Avoid high grass and hiking directly through brush. Stay on the trail as much as possible.
Now, a few tips that I have found helpful in refining my anti-tick strategy:
  • Wear long pants. Keeping ticks from being able to get in contact with your skin is the best way to keep from being exposed the diseases they could potentially carry.
  • Ticks like to get into dark, concealed areas of the body - areas like behind the ear, any hairline, belly button, etc. Be sure to periodically give yourself and your clothing a thorough check.
  • I am not a regular user of bug spray, but it can aid in keeping ticks off of you and your clothes in the first place.
Tick removal techniques abound. I have heard no less than half a dozen different methods for removing a tick once it has already embedded itself in the skin. Here is the method I have used successfully in the past  - take a look at it and do what you will with that. The idea is, you want to pull the tick out without crushing it or leaving the head behind in your skin. The other method I have used is the one where I glance down, see a bug on my arm/leg/whatever and rather than pause to identify it, I immediate assume it is a huge spider and slap at it. This is not the method I recommend.

Lyme disease is treatable. It's treated with antibiotics, and only rare and severe cases fail to respond to normal treatment.

Kydex + Leather Part II

Made a few revisions to my kydex and leather hybrid sheath. First, leather belt loops were added for both vertical and horizontal (removable) carry. This one was made for my Green River from Bill. I think the design fits a larger knife better, yet I still haven't come up with a small sheath setup that really makes me happy. For bigger, knives this will be the pattern I build off of for the time being.

Kydex + Leather

A prototype of a design I am working on combining a kydex inner sheath and leather outer sheath to form a rig that can be carried both vertically and horizontally:

Edible Plants of the Southeast: Curly Dock

This plant is a new one to my edible plant arsenal. During this past spring and summer, I decided to let my grass grow pretty much as long as it wanted without my interfering with nature, i.e. mowing - let's just call it an experiment in case my wife reads this later. One of the effects of this genius experiment was to show me exactly what sort of plants will pop up on their own that might be of use edible, medically, or otherwise. One plant that may a surprisingly quick and prolific appearance was the weed in the picture to the right (click on the picture for a higher res view). This weed spread in a large swath across the middle of my hard and grew with considerable quickness. Curious, I posted this same picture and posed the problem of identifying it to my friends at BushcraftUSA. Shortly after posting, several members had identified it as Rumex Crispus - Curly Dock.

Curly Dock is both edible and medicinal. It is pretty distinctive look with wavy leaf edges and long petioles. It seems that every green, leafy plant gets compared to spinach, but it's an apt comparison. The look, texture, and taste of this variety of dock is very similar to what you get from store bought fresh spinach. You can eat the clean leaves raw or soften them in hot water over a fire or on the stove. They are extremely high in iron content and many other nutrients and are also said to help settle the stomach. The younger leaves are generally softer and milder while some of the largest leaves I have eaten had a hint of sour/bitter taste. The roots are edible too, I just never really feel the inclination to eat plant roots except for carrots and potatoes.

Easy to find, easy to prepare; consider practicing to identify curly dock for foraging and survival. It is tough to use a picture or two off the internet to positively identify a plant- especially since the times you encounter a plant, it's unlikely you'll have the internet in your pack. I'd suggesting getting a small book as an aid in the field, a regional book if you can find one. One particular book I have enjoyed is Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas.

Physical Endurance

The best way to train your body to hike and backpack is to... hike and backpack. Running, rowing, weight lifting, martial arts,they all do a good job at preparing your muscles for particular motions and task(s). Your reasonably in-shape body is designed to be reasonably good as most physical motions. The more you repeat the motion, your body diverts resources, both physical and mental, to make that motion easier and better. You can see this readily in two area: the workout plateau and in a beginner cheating on form. In the second example, beginners to a physical discipline will often find themselves giving up their good "form" to make the exercise easier - think sagging or mounding on a pushup. Their body is complaining, so the person compensates by making a change to their position. By sagging on a pushup, you are attempting to divert the weight from your arms and chest into your shoulders. From a fitness and improvement perspective, it is cheating. From your body's perspective, it's good sense to utilize more muscles groups to bear the pain of exercise. In the first example, the point where an athlete is no longer seeing gains from their normal routine is referred to as a plateau. I'm not an expert, but from what I understand, this is because your body has become accustomed to the routine and has finished adjusting your body to accommodate the exercise. Your body believes is has compensated by building enough muscle to handle the strain you are giving it, so no further rapid muscle growth or improvement is seen by the athlete. It can be one of the most frustrating obstacles to a fitness goal. Programs such as Crossfit and even P90x use this understanding to plan their schedule using muscle confusion - in essence, not doing the same exercise with enough frequency to let your body compensate and then relax, plateauing.

For wilderness "athletes" like backpackers, oftentimes the muscle mass and six packs aren't as important as is pure endurance. For us, the idea of a plateau isn't so much an obstacle as it is an accomplishment. A plateau means you have taught your body to expect and accept a regular activity - maybe it is walking over uphill terrain, maybe it is chopping wood, maybe it is simply carrying a heavy pack and staying balanced.

The reason this has been on my mind is that I have not followed a regular workout schedule in years. I'll go through periods where I get out to hike a lot, and then periods where my outdoor time is hardly anything at all. I jog occasionally, crossfit occasionally, I do some bodyweight exercises when I feel stiff, but I hate gyms and hate weights. During those times where I get a lot of outdoor time, I am always surprised as how quickly my feet, legs, and shoulders adjust to hard miles. I suspect that because my body has, at numerous times, adapted itself to carrying a backpack over varying terrain for very long periods of time, it "remembers" and quickly adjusts itself to the remembered activity faster than it would something I had never done.

I am curious what kind of systems and exercises people do to get themselves in shape or stay in shape during the winter when it isn't as easy to get outdoors. Has anyone else noticed the rapid re-acclimatization of their body to a familiar exercise after a long period of not performing it?