I keep half a dozen of the aforementioned fine Fisher cartridges (black, red, and blue), as well as a Parker Ballpoint Refill and a Parker Gel Refill in a standard CellVault. Keeping small, infrequently used items like that organized is key for future sanity.
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They take up too much space for the limited function they provide. But a few years ago I was convinced to purchase a GSI Glacier Stainless Toaster. It works great to toast a piece of bread, and collapses flat for storage. I appreciate that it works just as well over a fire or camp stove as it does on my kitchen stove top. I’ve never actually taken it outside of the kitchen, and would never consider packing it on a backpacking trip, but for something more luxurious, like car-camping or horse-packing, it seems like a perfectly viable option.
For the majority of my time on a bike I’ve carried a U-lock in my bag. I’d rather have the weight on the bike than on my back, but I’d never found a way to accomplish this without unacceptable compromise. Mounting the lock inside the triangle interferes with throwing the bike on my shoulder when going up or down stairs. Bungee cords on a rear rack can hold the lock securely, but don’t prevent it from rattling around, and I place a very high value on the ability to move silently.
A little over a year ago I solved this problem by purchasing the ABUS Ugh Bracket. The Ugh is a three-piece bracket that mounts to the arms of any rear rack. Each component has a groove which holds the U-Lock arm and a small elastic band with a toggle which locks the arm in place. The bracket is clearly meant for large sized U-Locks, but I was able to make it work with my compact ABUS GRANIT Plus 640 and Tubus Vega rack by mounting at the bottom of the rack where the arms are closest together.
The Ugh holds the lock securely and silently. It gets the weight off of my back and ensures that the lock is always on my bike. It makes accessing the lock quick and easy. I would like to see the elastic strap replaced with some material with a longer life, but other than that I have been very happy with the bracket. I think it’s one of the better options out there for carrying a U-Lock.
When the bracket is installed, a pannier cannot be mounted to the same side of the rack. I use panniers when touring, but I don’t tour with a U-Lock, so this isn’t something I care about most days. It only takes a couple minutes to uninstall, but it is annoying to do and another barrier to heading out on a multi-day trip.
When I purchased the Ugh I couldn’t find anybody selling it in the US. I had to pay for it in Euros and ship it from Germany, which made it an expensive experiment. It is now carried by Lockitt, though at $32.00 it remains a pricey item. I’ve been happy enough with mine that I’d buy it again, but it is definitely pricier than throwing a couple Twofish Blocks on your bike.
But more frequently you just need a little. A few months ago I bought myself a Dualco 700231 Grease Gun and a Dualco 10547 4.5” nozzle. I filled the gun from a tub of Phil Wood Waterproof Grease that I’ve been working through for a handful of years. This made servicing my pedals much easier and less messy than previous jobs. Purchases like this make me feel more like an adult.
One component of optimizing for sleep is selecting the right tools. Back in 2010 I went looking for a replacement for the stereotypical feather pillow. Feather pillows work well enough when new, but degrade over time and are impossible to thoroughly clean without damaging them. This limited service life is suboptimal, and I assumed there must be a better solution out there.
I settled on buckwheat hulls. I reasoned that these would be easy to replace, which meant the life of the pillow would be determined by the shell rather than the filling. That the hulls were easily removed also meant the pillow could be washed. These two factors addressed my primary complaints against feather pillows.
I already had a zafu filled with buckwheat hulls, so I had some experience with the material that made me think it would work well for sleeping. Buckwheat hulls are lightweight and springy, making them easy to adjust to the contours of the body. The shape of the hulls means that, even under load, they do not compress flat, but instead leave a path for the movement of air. They are hypoallergenic and aren’t a food source for anything, which minimizes the probability of dust mites or other bugs taking up residency.
About the only negative thing one can say about buckwheat hulls is that they are loud. This was never a concern with my zafu, but I was worried that the noise would be unpleasant for a head pillow that I was trying to sleep on.
The solution to this was provided by a (now defunct) company called Serenity Pillows. They offered a patented dual-chamber pillow, which was filled with buckwheat hulls on one side, and a sheet of felted wool on the other side. By placing your head on the wool side you retained all the benefits of a buckwheat hull pillow, plus the temperature-regulation of wool, while the wool also muffled the sound of the hulls. I was sold on this idea as soon as I saw it.
Serenity Pillows offered two sizes of this dual-chamber pillow: one that we in the Western world would call a normal sized pillow, and a smaller version named the Shambho. The smaller size was about 16” x 10” (with a variable depth, depending on the amount of hulls you added or removed), which they claimed was closer to the traditional size of buckwheat hulls pillows used in Japan. I had never questioned the size of a pillow before, but when presented with this choice I couldn’t come up with any rational argument to support the larger size. I purchased the Shambho.
I’ve been sleeping on that same pillow for close to a decade now. It is never too hot or too cold. The amount of hulls can be adjusted to user preference. The shape of the pillow can be molded to support back or side sleeping. And I’ve never thought of a reason to want a larger size. It’s the perfect pillow.
I wash pillow cases regularly, and the pillow shell itself once or twice per year. This is a simple matter of dumping the hulls into a bucket, removing the felted wool sheet, and tossing the empty shell into the laundry machine with a bit of bleach.
Initially, the unusually small size of the pillow did make it difficult to find pillow cases, but I found that you can search for “toddler pillow cases” and find a plethora of appropriately sized (around 20” x 14” flat) options. Or you can have them made. I prefer linen – as in flax – for bedding, which I acquire from the large number of Eastern European sellers on Etsy. Since these products are usually made to order, I’ve found you can just send them the proper dimensions and they’ll sew up whatever you want. I always request a pillow case with an envelope closure, since the non-closing pillow cases more common in this country are dumb and their existence can only be justified by laziness. For this style of pillow case, 18” x 14” is about the right size.
At one point a few years ago I heard that Serenity Pillows had gone out of business, and was disappointed that I would never be able to replace this pillow – until last year, when I discovered a company called Sachi Organics had purchased the designs to both sizes of the Serenity dual-chambered pillows. They sell both the Shambho and the larger model Rejuvenation.
At the end of 2017 I purchased the Sachi Shambho during a sale at one of their dealers. It is identical to the original pillow, except for the tag. The small size of the Shambho makes it easy to store, so I was able to justify to myself the purchase of a second pillow both as a spare for guests, and against the day when the original Shambho must be replaced (if that day ever comes – today it is as good as new, but for some discoloration from use). I also purchased a replacement wool sheet for the original pillow. On top of its comfort, the serviceability of the pillow – that you can rejuvenate it by simply replacing the buckwheat hulls and wool – is another factor that attracts me to the Shambho. I expect I’ll be sleeping on the same pillow for at least another decade.
Loosely because I own more than one style of shirt, jacket, and pants. But I do try to keep things paired down, and standardizing on the color black means everything goes together and is largely fashion-agnostic. The approach reduces mental taxation.
I am more firm in the area of socks. Darn Tough makes the best socks, and the Tab No Show Light Cushion is the best Darn Tough sock. I bought my first pair in 2009. Over the subsequent years I have added a few additional pairs to my collection, but those original socks continue to be in regular rotation. I maintain a small number of other socks in my arsenal for specialty purposes – a couple pair of boot socks for those rare occasions when I wear tall boots, a couple pair of toe socks for augmenting huarache style sandals, and a pair of waterproof socks I bought to experiment with – but for almost all of my sock-wearing days each year I have the Tab No Show Light Cushion socks on my feet.
A few months ago I accidentally ripped out the top stitches of the pull tab on one of my Altama OTB boots, making the already-large loop even larger. Normally repairing this would be a job for the Speedy Stitcher, but I decided to use the excuse to try the Patagonia Expedition Sewing Kit.
The Patagonia kit is a reissue of an old piece of kit by Chouinard Equipment. Both the old and new versions come with a chuck that is used to hold a machine needle, and a cotter pin which slides through the chuck to provide a handle. The cotter pin is also intended to aid in rethreading draw strings through a channel on a sleeping bag, pack, or jacket hood.
The instructions included with the Patagonia kit explain the use of both the awl and the cotter pin. Users on the Zombie Hunters forum scanned and cleaned the instructions from the original Chouinard kit, which I have reposted here for comparison. This video also demonstrates the use of an awl for those unfamiliar with the process.
The idea behind the Chouinard awl and the Speedy Stitcher is the same. It provides a way to hold a machine needle, push it through heavy material, and easily create a secure lock-stitch. The immediately apparent difference between the two is in size and weight. The chuck and cotter pin in the Patagonia reissue of the Chouinard awl weigh 10 grams and could fit in the smallest coin pocket. A Speedy Stitcher (with thread, bobbin, and needles removed to make the comparison fair) weighs 64 grams and isn’t going to make the cut in any reasonable backpacking gear list.
I repaired my Altama OTB boots twice so that I could compare the process. First I completed the repair with the Chouinard awl, and then I went back and stitched it again with the Speedy Stitcher. The Speedy Stitcher, living up to its name, was much faster. The primary reason for this is that, between the bobbin within the handle and the thumb tack the thread is wrapped around before going through the eye of the needle, the Speedy Stitcher is able to keep the awl side of the thread under tension when completing a stitch. With the Chouinard awl I had to try to secure the thread with my thumb, which didn’t work terribly well. This made each stitch slower, as I had to carefully manage the tension in order to get a tight stitch but not pull the thread through too far on either side of the project.
Fortunately the solution to this problem was simple and presented itself to me after the boot project. First I tried placing the thread between the two pieces of the cotter pin. This increases tension, but it isn’t so tight that the thread cannot be pulled out. I have taken to doing this and then carefully pulling through the amount of thread I need. When I have the right amount of thread, I cut off a tail that’s an extra few inches long and simply tie it in a clove hitch around the cotter pin. The thread is now as secure as with the Speedy Stitcher and the efficiency of the tool is greatly increased.
The Chouinard kit was unavailable for many years until Patagonia’s reissue, which has led to people replacing the awl with off-the-shelf components. I thought this sounded like an easy and fun project, and would allow me to return the borrowed Patagonia kit. For the chuck I went with the recommended Mini Keyless Chuck. This comes with a shank that I cut off with a pair of snips, and then filed the cut smooth with the file on a Leatherman. The chuck already has a hole tapped in the side of it, but it is too small to fit a cotter pin or any other useful handle. I drilled this hole out with a 1/8” drill bit, after which it was the perfect fit for a 2.5” cotter pin I found at the hardware store.
The chuck ships with two collets. One is too large to hold any of the needles I tried. The smaller of the two works well.
One of the annoyances I had when using the Chouinard awl was that the chuck would often slide off the cotter pin when both of my hands were occupied on the other side of the project in creating the lock stitch. To solve this for my version, I simply added an O-ring with a 3mm interior diameter to the cotter pin. This prevents the chuck from sliding off the handle, as well as preventing it from sliding over the part of the cotter pin where I have the thread clove-hitched.
This version of the expedition awl – including modified chuck, cotter pin, and O-ring – tips the scale at 13 grams. That is 3 grams heavier than Patagonia’s reissue, but cheap and easy to make. The chuck is also a bit more compact than Patagonia’s.
I’ve used this version of the awl on a couple of small projects, and it works great. It is certainly something I would pack on any kind of extended travel, and for use at home it works just as well as the Speedy Stitcher.
In order to be able to store thread with the my new awl I purchased a pack of plastic thread bobbins. These have notches to prevent the thread from unwinding, a space to label the bobbin so that you know what thread it contains, and they keep the thread in a flat profile that makes it easy to slide into a small kit.
I chose three different threads to store with the awl. Sunstop V-69 Black Polyester UV from Sailrite, Z-69 Nylon from a spool I bought from Seattle Fabrics something like 15 years ago and have yet to use up, and a waxed nylon thread from Tandy.
Sailrite recommends the UV-treated polyester thread for general outdoor purposes, and the nylon thread for applications where greater strength is wanted but prolonged exposure to the sun is not expected. Between the two I think I have most eventualities covered.
The waxed nylon thread is probably heavier than what I need in a field repair kit given the type of equipment I generally carry, so I may end up removing it.
To supplement these two needles I copied the well-considered Chouinard kit recreation at Three Points of the Compass and purchased two needle sets from Superior Threads. I added one of the #60/8 Microtex Sharp Titanium-coated Needles and a #80/12 Topstitch Titanium-coated Needle to my kit. The Microtex #60/8 is a very sharp, fine needle that would be my choice when using the awl on lighter fabrics, like clothing or a silnylon tarp. The Topstitch #80/12 is a little larger, and also incredibly sharp, making it a good bridge between the Microtex and the two needles from the Speedy Stitcher.
I don’t pretend to understand all the different types of sewing needles out there and when one should use which type, but between these four I feel that I can confidently hack together any kind of field repair I am likely to need.
Despite this kit being built around the awl, I did also add one hand-sewing needle. I’m not sure what size or style it is. I acquired it sometime early in the millennium when I purchased a selection of vintage British sail-making needles (claimed to be from the early 20th century) on eBay. This one is clearly not a sail-making needle – or at least it is much finer than the typical triangular #16 I generally associate with sail-making – but it’s the needle I’ve always come back to for any repair when I have not been using an awl and machine needle.
As I mentioned when discussing my possibles pouch, I’ve always carried repair needles in one of the little plastic cases that you get when you purchase lead for a mechanical pencil. In fact, at some point – probably around the point I became an adult and stopped using mechanical pencils with any frequency – I started purchasing replacement lead just for the containers.
Rounding out the kit is a small selection of safety pins, and three small pieces of Tenacious Tape (black, clear, and green). Despite the fun of using the awl, a small piece of good tape is often a better repair tool for technical materials.
I’ve placed all of these items in a spare Zpacks Wallet Zip Pouch.
The kit in its entirety weighs 42 grams. In comparison, the complete Patagonia Expedition Sewing Kit weighs 40 grams. I have more and better thread, what I think are probably better needles, and a much nicer pouch to keep it all in. The Patagonia kit does include some different colored thread, but I don’t believe in visual pollution and I think a bit of black thread on earth-tone equipment is fine. Patagonia also includes a needle threader and a couple buttons, but I don’t think those are necessary additions.
All considered I’m very happy with this kit. The original awl from Chouinard Equipment was a great idea, and Patagonia’s reissue is perfectly serviceable. I had fun putting together my own version. It’s an extremely low cost investment that provides a lot of functionality and serves to increase my resiliency on any trip of extended length, as well as being useful at home.