Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review: Tenth Wonder Compact Camping/Bushcraft Hammock

I've been wanting to try out hammock-camping for a long time and I've had a Nomad's Land hammock on my porch, but now I finally gave in and bought an actual light camping hammock. The price was a major issue, so I went for a cheap one. Also, I don't like too complicated gear, so I'm happy that simplicity and low price go hand-in-hand.

eBay gave me very few options in my price range (not willing to spend a hundred euros on something I don't know I like or am able to sleep in). One of the options was the Tenth Wonder company from Worcestershire, UK. I've never had their products before, so this was a new acquaintance. I ordered a black "Compact Camping/Bushcraft Hammock",  and a tarp to go with it. A separate review for the tarp is coming soon after this one.

The combined price and shipping costs for the hammock were very reasonable, €17.38 (~25USD). Delivery was fast, about five work days to my mailbox. This is fast, as the Finnish post is usually quite slow with this stuff.

The hammock came packed in a green bag made of parachute fabric. The weight of the bag was 710 grams,  which was a disappointment, as the hammock was promised to weight 500 grams. The reason for the weight difference was obvious - the manufacturer does not count the ropes to the weight, only fabric. This is misleading in my opinion, as the hammock is useless without those very ropes. They are an essential part of it, and should be counted in the weight. The fabric itself weights exactly 500 grams when weighted separately.

The weight of the entire package.

The contains of the bag are two flat green ropes about three meters each and the hammock fabric, measuring about 240cm long and 145cm wide when folded once upon itself. There are rope canals woven in each end for the rope, and the ropes are already threaded through them. The canals are reinforced with a thicker fabric, which seems rational. The seams are good quality, and there are no loose thread ends or pieces of thread hanging around. The fabric is rectangular, there are no modifications to the shape.

The fabric is folded on top of itself, making a pocket in between. This would be a good spot for your foam pad, if you do not use a quilt for insulation on the underside. I also tested if the fabric would hold my weight if i went between the layers, and indeed it did. I was able to fully enclose myself between the layers, laying in a complete cocoon.

The hammock and the ropes straight from the package.

The hammock has a small label containing usage and cleaning instructions. Some of the instructions are good and sound, others are not. The label has a semi-humorous political message on it, which is something I'd prefer the manufacturer left out, although the message itself is sound (damn them lizards). I don't want to buy a product with any kind of political message without knowing about it, humourous or otherwise.

A hidden agenda?

I hung the hammock on my porch for some time and spent some time in it on the hot summer days, trying to get the feel to it. It hangs nicely, the ropes are good and do not stretch. My first actual night spent in the hammock was a few weeks ago, in typical Finnish mixed-tree forest environment. The flat ropes seem to be gentle on the trees, and although I did not have any treehuggers or straps, I did not see any damage on the two pines where I tied the hammock. The hammock is quite short, but that is the price of the light weight. I still am able to lie in it without much discomfort, although it does crimp on my shoulders a bit. Laying diagonally does not really work because of the short length, as it would result in either my head or my feet hanging outside the hammock.

Hanging around.

I had a modified down sleeping bag as a peapod-type quilt for the first night, and it worked excellent. With a tarp as rain protection, I only woke up once during the night and even that was not because of the the hammock, but for my own stupidity. Why do I always have to drink a lot before going to sleep? :) The night was comfortable, warm and cozy.

The peapod sleeping bag.
With the tarp on top.

The first actual test was a great success, and I intend to modify and use this hammock extensively for as long as the weathers allow. I intend to even try out winter-hammocking.

A good hammock for it's price. I have a limited experience with hammocks but I liked it, I liked the low weight and the simplicity. This hammock will see a lot of usage.

-Good ropes

-Political messages

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bialowieza, Poland

Last April I had one of my dreams come true, and I got to visit the "last forest of Europe", i.e. the Bialowieza national park of Poland.  The place in question has been under total protection for hundreds of years - first for the hunting sports of royals, and nowadays for it's unique nature.

For a student of nature and environment such as myself, the place is nothing short of a miracle. The amount and variety of life is breath taking. To think that a few thousand years ago the whole European continent was covered with a forest like this...

The best reserved part of the forest in still under total protection, but accompanied with a licenced guide and a whole lotta respect one can still visit this magnificant place. And believe me, when they say protected, they really mean it: in addition to the obvious trees, plants and animals, also the ground itself, all the stones etc are to be left alone. For example, if you need to go to the toilet, well, thats just too bad. Also, the air is protected, so the whole area is strictly non-smoke area. For me and my friends and I suppose for most visitors, these rules are unnecessary: the place itself makes you talk in whispers, and harming even a mosquito seemed out of place.

Heres a few pics from what was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

It was 4pm when we started our 8 km hike.
The sun was shining from a low angle, creating a unique atmosphere.
Hieroglyphs, propably made by bark beetles

The scale of things were amazing. Heres a fallen spruce.

"Access only with a licences guide" 
Just another pine tree and me

Swamp ponds, just breath taking.

Swamp ponds 2

A hollowed tree trunk

Dust to dust, fallen trees turn into soil, and provide nutritions to their own saplings 

Dust to dust 2

Dust to dust 3

Dust to dust 4

After a tall tree fells, young saplings start the competition of reaching sunlight

April beaty. Our guide told that the base of the forrest can change entirely within weeks,
there are so many different plants, which all take turns according to what time of year it is.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Feet maintenance on the trail

Feet can be the most annoying and painful part of your body after walking for a while. While the problem is mostly blisters, which rarely cause any permanent problems, there are real dangers too, for example a condition known as Stress fracture. So, get to know your feet, and if they really are killing you, dont be a dumbass and "tough it up".

Here's a couple of things Ive learned.

1. Obvious, yet often overlooked: stop and check your feet from time to time. When your tired, and dont feel any obvious hot spots on your feet, it's easy to just keep on going. Then, after you stop and rest for 15 minutes, you realize you have a huge blister developing. The thing is, often hotspots cannot be felt while walking, until its too late. So, take a break, get your shoes and socks off, check your feet visually and let them rest. Massage your feet and give them a good slap or two, to get the blood flowing.

2. Cotton socks. "Cotton kills", at least my feet they do. I've actually had blisters from a 5 mile evening walk with the best shoes I own, just because it was hot enough for my feet to get sweaty and I had cheap cotton "tennis" -socks on. So, get good socks, and try them out before going on a hike!

3. Layering socks. There are socks that are specially designed for layering up, but the cheap way is to buy womens angle-lenght socks. You know, those that are made from the same strechy material as pantyhoses. I usually have a pair of those in my backpack just in case. Ive noticed that sometimes just a pair of thin hiking socks is perfect and then another day it might be raining hard and I need to add a pair of womens socks to take some of the friction off. Anyway, having a pair will give you more options with the cost of 2 eurs and a few extra grams on your backpack. Also, the socks in question often offer a cheap laugh at the camp fire.

4. Blister plasters (=bandages). I dunno who invented these first, but the person responsible should get the Nobel price of hiking equipment. I've used the Compeed brand. What the blister plaster (damn, that sounds like a Mad Max villain) does is it covers the blister with a slippery, skin-like layer, eases the pain almost immediately, and stays on for days and days, minimizing further friction and actually healing the blister while you walk. These little things can save your trip. Highly recommended!

5. Shoes. What can I say? Some say that shoes are the most important piece of hiking gear, and I cant really argue with that. Pick 'em carefully, and dont take a pair of brand new shoes to a hike. Wear them in with miles and miles of all kinds of terrain.

Feet maintenance: after a long walk its nice to walk barefeet in the camp,
to let the feet breathe. When your feet are wet and wrinkly,
they might end up looking a bit weird, though

Pics from random hikes

Some pics from past hikes. Not so much gear or knife shots here, more wildlife and landscapes :)

Shots from home 1. Taken a few miles from where I live

Shots from home 2

Sun and moon 1

Sun and moon 2. (Kuusamo, Finland)

Adder... one of the few dangerous animals of southern Finland 

Reindeer. One of the not-so-dangerous animals of northern Finland.
(Kuusamo, Finland)

Reindeer skull (Kuusamo, Finland)

Wild edibles. Lingonberries and chantarelles

Wild edible with a deadly twist.
Korvasieni, or Gyromitra esculenta is deadly poisonous when prepared  incorrectly.

Damn sheeple!
On some of the islands of Turku Archipelago there are wild herding  sheep.
While not dangerous, these guys are used to humans and can be a little too nosey.
So, best not to leave your back untended

Two ways of crossing swamps 1:
During winter its easiest to walk on frozen swamp ditches.
That is, as long as they really are frozen... 

Two ways of crossing swamps 2:
Summertime its best to stay on the "pitkospuut".
Some of the swamps are basically unaccesible, and potentially dangerous places.
When on "pitkospuut", unfasten your backpack waist strap, just in case.

Firesteel + Tupasvilla (Hare's-tail Cottongrass), works just as well as cotton balls.

Monday, July 11, 2011

1st Puukko

Ive always wanted to make a puukko; forge, harden, heat treat and grind the blade and make the handle and sheath from scratch. Ive read a ton of books about said issues, but a few years ago I got a rare opportunity to work under the supervision of a professional puukko smith (said smith is nowadays one of the four "puukko-masters" in Finland).

I figured there might be a lot to learn about this topic, but still I was surprised how much knowledge and skill goes into making a traditional puukko. A knife like this looks simple, but it's actually far from it. Almost all factory knives, and even most of the handmade custom knives are not forged, they're simply grinded or stamped from a flat piece of metal. This is true with most puukkos too. Forging however isn't important just because of tradition, it changes the structure of the steel, and is essential for a good blade for this type of knife. For a professional, making a puukko takes about 12 hours. For me, it was more like 30-50 hrs, but it was so intresting and fun, that the process could hardly be called "work".

For purely traditional values, I made the handle mostly out of curly birch. However, being this is my  very first puukko, I just had to add something extra to the handles. There was plenty of exotic woods to choose from, but I couldnt bring myself into using some psychedelic Amazonian neon-wood for a puukko, so I chose red rose wood (it actually grows in Finland too). The slabs between the pieces are birch bark. The blade is forged from 0,8% carbon steel, and the ferrules are grinded from brass. The shape of the knife is as traditional as possible; the style is mostly copied from Tommi-puukko, but of course I measured it to fit my own hand.

Here's a couple of pics from different stages of the process.

After some ~20 hours of training and work, I had two nice blades, ready to go

Fitting the ferrules was a lot of work; there should be no gap between
the blade and the brass

Assembling the handle.

Almost there...


Overall lenght ~7", the blade being a little under 3,5". The handle was treated with danish oil and bee wax.

The sheath was surprisingly easy to do, but it still took me some 4-5 hours to sew, decorate and dye it. The sheath has a wooden liner in it for shape and safety. The overall design is from tommi-puukkos sheath.

Making this knife was a lot of fun and extremely educational knife-wise. If you're ever given the opportunity to make a knife of any kind with professional supervision, I strongy recommend it!

Spyderco Delica 4

The very first quality folder I purchased was a first generation Spyderco Delica. I think it was 'round -96 or something. It's the one with fixed pocket clip, AUS-8 blade, full serrations etc. I put that little thing trough a lot; no surprise I broke the tip off (and reprofiled it with a diamond file). The handle is all scratched, and the blade has been sharpened numerous times... still that little knife cuts like no other.

Among friends (from top to bottom):
1. Byrd Raven, 2. Crickett, 3. 4th gen. FFG, 4. 4th gen combo edge,
 5. orginal Clipit Delica, and 6. the Harpy

A couple of years back I bought a Delica 4 with a partially serrated edge. During these 4 generations, the Delica has transformed from a featherweight blade into a sturdier knife. Almost too sturdy, one might say. The fit and finish of this knife are amazing, it feels like there's a ball bearing in the knife joint. The black paintet pocket clip shows scratches, and loosens up from time to time, but it works great, and is reversible to all four corners of the knife.

Brand new vs. 2 years of use

A year ago I upgraded into a full flat grind Delica which in my opinion kinda takes the Delica back to the roots due to the noticable lighter weight. Though the knife is almost identical to the previous Gen 4, there were some differencies with the quality. Something that maybe only a knife nut would notice, but this newer Delica lacks the smoothes and finesse of the previous Spydies Ive owned, and the "Spydie hole" in the blade has sharped edges. The blade lock's thumb stud is sharper too, and harder to push. None of these issues are a "deal braker", but I do hope Spyderco is not about to lower their previosly near perfect quality control.

Other than these minor issues, the knife is great. After a year of use, the clip has loosen up a couple of times, and its scratched up, but the blade looks like new. Spyderco really knows how to make their VG10 into one of the finest pocket blade steels there is. The full flat grind is in my opinion the way the Delica is meant to be made; it cuts amazingly well. Sure, the thin blade is more brittle than a thicker one, but the clue is in the name: the knife is supposed to be used delica(tely), not as a prying bar. This in mind, I'm not sure if the skeletonized metal liners are actually needed in the handle; the blade would snap long before even a plain FRN (Fiberglass reinforced nylon) handle would brake.

Worth of mentioning: the bright color of the handle is a big plus for me. Sure, the foliage green is cool and tactical and all that, but for a user-knife, I really want the knife to rather be visible than cool.

In conclusion: an excellent, fast and lighweight knife for a reasonable price.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hike at the Finnish eastern border, summer 2011

Our "big" hike this summer was done a week before midsummer. The location we chose was somewhat a compromise between the flatlands where we live and the fjells of Lapland - the eastern border between Finland and Russia. There is a marked hiking path spanning 160 kilometers, called the "Eastern border trail", or "Itärajan reitti" in Finnish. They have a website in Finnish, found here. We hiked a small section of this trail, doing only small distances.

Our priorities for this hike were more on skills and techniques, as we wanted to have some practice for our upcoming hiking skills contest. Thus we had a few goals:

  • All campfires were to be done with a firesteel only
  • Finding/creating tinder from the woods
  • Practice the "figure 4"-trap
  • Learn to make a fire with a firebow/drill
  • Test all new gear to get comfortable with it
  • Gather some edibles from the forest & try to catch fish
  • Use ranger beads to approximate walked distances

As a shelter I only had a 2x3 meter light tarp (the noisy cheap stuff from hardware stores, 5 euros worth) and Adu had his Halti Cavity tent. Basically we could have camped almost anywhere along the trail (based on the Finnish law of everyman's rights), but since you need the landowner's permission to make a fire we decided to camp beside the marked and maintained firepits and wooden shelters ("laavu"). This came with the cost of some of the wilderness feeling, but with the comforts of a cooking fire, dry firewood, benches and easy shelter.

The weather conditions were typical Finnish midsummer - some rain, some sunshine. More of the rain this time, though. The temperatures were somewhere between 16 and 22 degrees centigrade in daytime and around 10 degrees centigrade at night.

Our first walk was just a few kilometers to get away from the car. We drove the entire day (~9 hrs) to get to the location, and left the car about an hour before midnight. A short walk later we got to our first campsite. It was dry, we put up our shelters, had a late supper and stayed up most of the night sitting around the campfire, enjoying the fine weather, lake view and a little brandy.

A view on the lake. The orange glow on the right is the campsite.

The "laavu" shelter.

Our sleeping shelters.
On day two we struck camp after breakfast, and it soon started to rain. This soon became the wettest and most miserable day on the whole hike. As the trail proceeded through several swamps and dense forest, we were soon wet from head to toe, even with rain gear on. The backpacks stayed mostly dry, though, and we had made extra care that the sleeping bags and extra clothing were packed waterproof. Eventually we came to our next campsite, another wooden "laavu". This one was located on the western shore of a long lake. The wind gushed strongly from the east, blowing straight inside the shelter. It rained constantly, and we decided to stay the night inside the laavu. We arranged my tarp as a wind shelter on the doorway of the laavu - this improved the shelter quite a bit.  My self-made wood burning stove did not function as I had hoped (although it performed nicely when I tested it), and we ended up cooking almost all of our food on the campfire instead. We spent most of the day and night just sitting inside the laavu, drinking tea, waiting for the rain to stop.

A dish best served hot. Pasta with some soy grits and spices.
The third day dawned wet and cold. We packed our backpacks inside the shelter and walked on. When nearing our next campsite, the rain stopped and the sun started to peek among the clouds. We decided to stop on another shelter to dry off our gear before continuing to the actual campsite. Some hot food, fire and drying clothes quickly got our spirits up.

A lake we passed by. Rain, rain, rain.

A typical swamp. We crossed lots of these, walking on wooden boards, "pitkospuut".

Drying off by the campfire.
We continued to the actual campsite by a river. The weather improved, we got lots of sunshine and we had a good chance to get our gear dry. We slept in our own shelters again, as the hard wooden planks suck when all you have is a foam pad!

I tried to make fire with a fire drill. Unsuccesful, I only got smoke. I used birch as the drill and pine as the board. We think my bow was too taut, since it was very hard to get it working properly.

The river.
The next day we hiked on. It was dry and warm, and we walked pretty fast. The terrain was mostly dense woods and swamps, but an occasional river and hill made the hike more interesting. We arrived at our next camping spot with perfect timing. Two minutes after we got our packs off, there was a torrential downpour that lasted for a few minutes. The rain soon turned into a drizzle that lasted a few hours. We had some good food, and drank a lot of tea. We also tested some natural drinks, pine-needle tea and spruce shoots tea (the light green year-growths of a spruce tree). These were delicious, and we'll be making more of these on our future hikes. Harming the trees without landowner's permission is illegal however, so it's hard work to find a freshly fallen branch to use for these. Lucky for us, there was much wind and thus a lot of fallen branches.

When the rain ceased, we tried our hands on some trap-making, practicing for our upcoming hiking skills contest. It did not take long for both of us to make a working "figure 4" trap, but then again, we only used light firewood as a load. It would probably be much harder with an actual heavy load, such as a stone or a log.

I also fished a bit, caught several small perches (perca fluviatilis) and used their eyes as bait. I soon caught a "bigger" one, that we cooked on a stick by the campfire and ate. At least we got a taste of fish, though not enough to fill a stomach. I also cooked a large "penny bun" mushroom (boletus pinophilus) I found. Delicious!

My figure 4 trap.

Adu's figure 4 trap.


Food. :)

The lake at night.

The next day we took off for the last camping spot. I walked a few kilometers barefoot, just for the hell of it, but as expected, my feet soon got tender and the going got slow. So, on with the running shoes. The trail went on some dirt roads, which killed both the wilderness-feeling and our feet. At least the weather was good. This hike was short, and we were soon at our last campsite.

This site did not have any shelter, and as the weather was looking to get worse, we pinned my tarp as a cooking shelter between some trees next to the firepit. The rain did not come despite some thunder, but we decided to keep our tarp-shelter anyway. I decided to sleep under a spruce tree, using a space-blanket as a groundcloth and my actual groundcloth as rain shelter. Worked like a charm, even when it rained a bit during the night. You could have walked right by the spruce and not spot my sleeping spot. Stealth camping! :)

Tarp as a rain shelter.

My stealth camping spot. Nice and dry, all night long.

Adu's last tent spot.

The last morning was wet, as it had rained at night. We had a hasty breakfast and headed to the parking spot where my car was waiting for us. A fun hike, though not much distance covered. :)