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The Expedition Sewing Kit

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.

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.

DIY

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.

Expedition Awl

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.

Thread

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.

Needles

For needles, I began with the Straight #4 and Straight #8 from the Speedy Stitcher kit. These are my most frequently used needles with the Speedy Stitcher.

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.

Et cetera

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.

Expedition Sewing Kit

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Laser Red

My criteria for sunglasses is fairly simple:

  1. They must offer impact protection. Not protecting my eyeballs has always seemed dumb. Not protecting them after I’ve sunk a few thousand dollars into my cornea would be even dumber. ANSI Z87.1 is a good standard for impact protection, but I will of course happily accept MIL-PRF-31013.
  2. They should offer interchangeable lenses. This is not critical, but it is nice to have. Different lens colors are appropriate in different environments. Good eyewear is usually expensive, which can make purchasing multiple pairs prohibitive. If you do purchase multiple pairs, you still have to carry them, which is much less attractive than carrying one pair of frames and different lenses. Photochromic lenses make the single-lens option more palatable, until you realize that the alternative is interchangeable photochromic lenses.
  3. They should not be butt-ugly.

Prior to PRK, the fourth and most important criteria was that they somehow be prescription compatible. I always assumed this was the most limiting criteria. While recovering from my shine job I lay in bed thinking about eyewear, and assumed that there would be a much wider range of options available to me when I could see again.

Imagine my disappointment when, after I recovered enough to see a computer, I found that there were actually no compelling new options. Even without the need of prescription lenses, the Rudy Rydon Stealth are still the best thing out there.

Determined to not be so easily dissuaded from spending money, I decided to treat myself to a new pair of lenses for the Rydons. After some consideration I landed on the ImpactX2 Photochromic Laser Red. Red lenses provide excellent contrast and visual depth. I have owned a pair of Rudy’s non-photochromic Racing Red lenses for a while and found them to be the ideal option for overcast days, but their static nature gave them a more narrow window of effectiveness which limited their actual use. The Photochromic Laser Red take the same excellent color and add the dynamism I’ve come to enjoy: the lenses offer 75% light transmission on the clear side and 16% light transmission on the dark side. On the light side that’s actually 1 point higher than the same generation clear-to-black lenses, making them even more appropriate for indoor or night work. On the dark side, that’s right in the middle of the transmission range typical of most sunglasses. The “laser” in the name refers to a light mirrored coating. These aren’t the mirrorshades Bruce Sterling promised you, but the lasering does serve to reduce glare and eye strain by reflecting some of the light away rather than absorbing it. It also adds an attractive bluish sheen.

I bought these lenses last December and I’ve removed them from the Rydons in exactly two situations: on water and on snow. In those environments I think a good, dark polarized brown lens is hard to beat. I opt for the Rudy Polar 3FX. In every other environment I’ve been in over the past year, my preference has been for the Photochromic Laser Red. I wear them whenever I’m on the bike. Even if I’m riding past midnight and it is pitch black, they transmit enough light that I barely notice I have them on. I wear them indoors when things are going bang. I wear them during the equinox when the sun is low on the horizon, pointing directly into my eyes. Like all photochromic lenses, they react to UV light, and so are suboptimal in cars. They will darken, but not completely. I tend to only spend a collective handful of hours per year in cars, so this isn’t a consideration for me.

If I was only going to have one pair of lenses, it’d be these. (But I like interchangeable lenses so I keep the brown lenses in my pack too.)

Rudy Rydon ImpactX2 Laser Red: Dark

Rudy Rydon ImpactX2 Laser Red: Clear

The rain has begun, and I'm treating myself to new tires with fresh tread.

I first began to use the Schwalbe Marathon Supremes six years ago. Since then I have tried a few other tires, but within a couple months I invariably end up coming back to the Marathon Supremes. They ride well, only get maybe one or two flats per year, and I appreciate the visibility of the reflective sidewall. I tend to replace them after somewhere around a year of use – I think the set I removed today were in service for 15 months. I don’t track miles, so I don’t know what sort of distance the tires get me, but it’s up there. They aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it for the contribution they make to my everyday mobility.

Maintenance Day

Respirator Considerations

Another year, and California is burning.

I’ve taken advantage of the recent fires to perform more respirator trials. I use the respirators when getting around town on my bicycle, which provides a good analog for any aerobic activity, allowing me to evaluate things like breathability, humidity within the respirator, and how well the seal performs when contaminated air is being blown over the respirator at high speeds. I’ve found there are certain characteristics that I desire in a respirator.

Rating

The standard respirators that are most worth considering are N95. The “N” designates that it is not resistant to oil. The “95” designates that it filters 95% of particles 0.3 microns or larger.

After the BP oil spill in 2010 I purchased a P100 respirator. These respirators filter 99.97% of particles, and are “strongly resistant” to oil. They are large, bulky cartridge respirators that are great to keep at home, but you are not going to carry them around.

Recently I purchased a box of R95 respirators. These are more similar to the N95 than the P100, but are “somewhat resistant” to oil. They have a service life of 8 hours in environments with airborne oil particles, which is long enough for me to get to my P100 respirator. Unfortunately the R95 respirators are quite a bit thicker than the N95. They could be easily carried in a bag, but they are too thick to fit in my PPE kits (without moving to a larger aLOKSAK). I’m splitting the R95 respirators between home and work, but will continue to carry N95 respirators in my kits.

Back in 2007, when I first started researching respirators, I came across an adhoc study comparing these ratings against common household materials:

I recently assisted in a study to determine how available materials compared to P-100 respirator cartridges. Cartridges were opened, the contents removed, and a series of different materials were attached to the cartridges. The cartridges were installed onto standard North full-face respirators. A Certified Industrial Hygenist performed fit testing on the mask assembly using a standard quantitative fit testing machine, the one that compares particle counts inside the mask to ambient air particulate counts.

The materials tested were:

  • coffee filters, 1 layer;
  • t-shirt fabric (knitted fabric), folded into 8 layers, wet, dry, and oiled with petroleum jelly;
  • bandanas(woven fabric), folded into 8 layers, wet, dry, and oiled with petroleum jelly;
  • a HEPA vacuum cleaner filter, dry.

We boiled the cloth to shrink it before testing.

The performance of the coffee filter, HEPA filter, and the dry fabric was terrible. Abysmal. Worthless. Bad.

The wet fabrics were a bit better, but still bad. Why firefighters use wet bandanas to filter smoke is beyond me. They are practically worthless.

The HEPA filter was so moisture-resistant that the mask fogged up to where you couldn’t see out. And it didn’t perform that well. Perhaps its stiffness made the seal leak, it really should have done much better.

But the 8-layer oiled bandana and oiled t-shirt performed about 80% as well as the P-100 filter, and in fact passed about half the tests. This makes it equivalent to about a N-90, which is 90% as good as a N-95 filter. It was nothing short of amazing how well the oiled fabric filtered air.

Now it’s interesting that there is a report (page 1, page 2) from WW1 that a doctor on a troop ship made everyone wear oiled gauze masks, and did not lose a single person on the trip across the Atlantic.

Using an old-style cloth surgical mask and oiling it with petroleum jelly increases its filtration efficiency something like 1000 times. And oiled cloth filters actually filter better the dirtier they get, until they clog up. They are used in high-perforance cars.

Oh, and I suppose I ought to admit it was my kid’s science fair project.

Harness

Most respirators either have a single continuous harness that goes around the crown of the head and back of the neck, or two separate straps. I’ve not noticed a significant difference between these two options, though the single continuous harness can easily be adjusted for smaller heads with a single knot.

The two-piece harness is usually attached to the respirator via staples, the penetration of which may reduce the efficacy of the respirator, but only if the puncture results in a tear.

When staple punctures tear holes in the filter medium, the concentration of particles leaking through those openings is considerable and resembles face seal leakage… The findings of this study suggest that stapling head straps directly onto the filtering material of a respirator has the potential to create leaks in amounts similar to that of face seal leaks.

I look for a textile harness. Cheaper respirators use thin rubber bands. For single use these are adequate, but they snap if you are frequently donning and doffing the respirator.

Valve

A valve to vent exhalation is critical. Non-vented respirators are useless to me. Even if all you’re doing is sitting around not moving, the non-vented respirator will build up humidity over time, making long-term wear quite uncomfortable. Add in any physical activity and the process is accelerated.

At a minimum the vent should be closed at the top of the respirator. This prevents the warm, humid air from moving directly up and fogging your eyewear. On some respirators, the vent is closed on both the top and sides, forcing the exhaled air to escape downwards only. This is desirable.

Non-vented respirators are appropriate in healthcare environments when sterility needs to be maintained. That is to say: where you are concerned about your exhalation impacting the sterility outside the respirator, not the other way around. Vented respirators meet the same protection requirements as their non-vented counterparts.

If you’re worried about keeping your operating theater sterile, get a respirator without a valve and embrace the suck. Otherwise don’t.

Fold-Flat

I want to carry the respirator, which means I need to be able to fold it flat. There are two variants of fold-flat respirators: those that fold vertically along the center, and those that fold horizontally.

A center fold respirator provides more volume across the front of the face. When a respirator fits properly and provides a good seal, it should collapse slightly due to suction when inhaling during aerobic activity. When wearing a center fold respirator, this collapse happens along the cheek area. I find I tend not to notice it. With a horizontal fold respirator the collapse is more likely to happen across the front. The respirator touches my lips with each heavy inhalation, so I constantly notice it. I do not think there is a functional difference here, but it is a factor in long-term comfort.

A horizontal fold respirator can be more comfortably pulled down below the chin. A center fold respirator can not (unless perhaps you have an unusually long neck). If you need to temporarily remove the respirator – perhaps to take a drink – it can still be pushed down, such that the nose clip rides on the chin. I find this uncomfortable for more than a brief period of time. When the air quality index (AQI) is red or worse (151+), I generally want to wear the respirator whenever I’m outdoors. When the AQI is orange (101-150), I don’t feel I need a respirator if I’m just walking or standing outdoors, but I do want it when I’m breathing heavily. It’s in these conditions that I appreciate the ability to wear a horizontal fold respirator pulled down on my neck. I can easily (and quickly) pull it up when I begin breathing more heavily (ie, when I get on the bike). With a center fold respirator I’m more likely to temporarily store the unused respirator in a pocket, increasing the time requirement to don it.

Horizontal fold respirators place the valve in the center. On center fold respirators, the valve is offset to one side. When using horizontal fold respirators, I find that close-fitting eyewear is more likely to fog if I’m not moving (when moving more than a few miles per hour, air flow across the eyewear eliminates any fogging). I experience less fogging with center fold respirators. I’m not sure if this is due to the position of the valve – perhaps the offset valve encourages the warm, moist exhalations to be vented to the side, rather than immediately up to the lenses – or due to the seal. A center fold respirator, I find, provides a superior seal across the top of the face because the respirator naturally wants to pinch the bridge of the nose and hug the cheeks.

Color

Most disposable respirators are white. Some come in gray. The fashion market offers respirators in dark colors and patterns. These look cool, but I prefer white. White shows dirt, encouraging me to replace the respirator more frequently than I probably otherwise would. Despite the lack of a NIOSH standard for respirator reuse (including those labeled “single use” by the manufacturer), particle build up on the surface of the respirator will increase pressure, which will increase leaks. If you’re using the respirator out of concern of influenza or flu, the color of the respirator is probably irrelevant. For smoke and other pollutants that leave visible residue, white may be better.

Recommendations

3M has a large, sprawling product line that seems to have a lot of redundancy and overlapping offerings. The 3M Aura 9211+/37193 checks most the boxes and is the nicest horizontal fold respirator I’ve used. The material is about 1.5mm thick, and the valve sits about 15mm off the face of the respirator at its tallest point. The wings easily fold in, allowing the respirator to fit in a small aLOKSAK for one of my PPE kits. Because of how the respirator folds, when the wings are folded in, the thickest part of the respirator excluding the valve is 13mm. I feel the respirator is a bit loose around my chin and jaw, but the seal still seems effective. Condensation becomes visible on the outside of the valve, which shows you it is working. The material that makes up the upper portion of the respirator has a perforated layer between inner and outer shells, which I imagine contributes to the respirator’s breathability, but this upward facing exhaust causes the respirator to fog eyewear a bit more than it otherwise would. The center portion of the respirator has some sort of stiff interfacing that feels a bit like a thin foil. This stiffness seems to prevent the suction collapse I usually experience with horizontal fold respirators (although the perforated upper portion and the loose fit on the lower portion of the respirator could also contribute to this). The harness is two pieces, textile, and stapled.

Condensation on a 3M 9211+

The Dräger X-plore 1760 is a vented, center-fold R95 respirator. It is the highest quality respirator I’ve tried. Being an R95, it is too thick to fit into my PPE kits. The material is 3mm thick. Folding along the center line, and then folded again such that it would be the right dimensions to fit in my desired aLOKSAK, it ends up being 18mm thick (excluding valve), which doesn’t work. The valve sits about 11mm off the face of the respirator. If you want some oil resistance, and don’t need to fold the respirator more than once, this is an excellent option. I stay significantly more comfortable underneath this respirator than others. It has a tight seal on my face that provides good suction on inhalation, and you can hear and feel the valve flutter on exhalation. Condensation becomes visible on the outside of the valve, which shows you it is working. I have attempted to fog the lenses of my Rudy Rydons while wearing this respirator, and failed. They only fog when I break the seal of the respirator to adjust its placement. It has a single-piece, continuous, textile harness.

Condensation on a Drager X-plore 1760

After discovering how great the 1760 was, I purchased the Dräger X-plore 1750, hoping that it would be the same thing but thinner. That ended up being exactly what it is. This respirator is the N95 variant, which explains the difference in thickness. It is just under 2mm thick. Folded to fit in the aLOKSAK, the thickest part of the respirator excluding the valve is 7mm. I find myself leaning toward center fold respirators, and this is a perfect center fold N95. If you just want to buy a box of respirators and be done with, I’d recommend getting these.

Dräger also produces a version of the 1760 with activated carbon that I would like to try. If it isn’t any thicker than the standard 1750, the extra odor protection provided by the activated carbon could be a nice bonus. My respirator budget is depleted for now, and I have more than I need for a while, so you’ll have to wait until a future fire season for a review of that one.

My P100 respirator is a 3M 6391. It has not seen much use, as I’ve yet to be in an environment where it is needed. I’m as happy as I can be given the limited wear time I’ve logged with it over the past 8 years. You’ll have to wait until the next oil spill before I can give a meaningful review. One consideration worth keeping in mind when shopping for a respirator like this is that the height of the nose piece can interfere with some eyewear.

A Personal Air Filtration System

Another year, and California is burning.

After Napa burned to the ground last year I decided to invest in an air filter. I ended up with a Coway AP-1512HH, which seemed like the right size for my small apartment, and came with a good recommendation from The Wirecutter.

Coway AP-1512HH

The unit has three different filters: a pre-filter intended for large dust particles, hair, and the like; a carbon filter to remove odors; and a HEPA filter that does the heavy lifting.

The pre-filter I clean by vacuuming every 4-6 weeks (when I think of it). The carbon filter I’ve never attempted to clean. The HEPA filter has a 12-month lifespan. The air quality sensor is also supposed to be cleaned every couple months. I’ve cleaned this once, after about 8 months of service, when I noticed that the unit was constantly registering a high pollution level that I disagreed with. Cleaning the sensor immediately fixed the problem.

The Coway is supposed to light an LED when the HEPA filter needs replacing. My unit has been in use for 12 months now, and that LED has never turned on. I’m not sure why that is, but since the replacement cycle is yearly, and the LED alert is nothing more intelligent than a timer, I simply offloaded the problem to taskwarrior.

$ task add project:air due:2018-12-15 recur:yearly wait:due-8weeks "replace Coway AP1512HH filter set (3304899)"

The filter detects pollution and, when placed in automatic mode, adjusts the fan speed appropriately. The current pollution level is indicated by a ridiculously bright LED that can light up a whole room. I’ve placed a piece of tape over this. This is necessary if the unit is in the same room that you sleep in.

Coway AP-1512HH Control Panel

I’ve enjoyed using the filter throughout the year. It takes care of cooking smells, so that I’m not smelling my dinner all night. I assume the copious dust I clean out of its pre-filter would otherwise end up in my lungs. At its lowest two settings it is quiet enough to leave on overnight, providing pleasant airflow even if I don’t need the filtering. During the cooler months when I don’t want the extra airflow, I keep the unit in “eco” mode, which disables the fan module when no pollution has been detected for 30 minutes.

However, I had not felt that the cost of the unit justified what I was getting out of it, until California caught fire again. Since last Thursday San Francisco has been inundated with smoke, requiring the use of a mask during outdoor activity. But I’ve had clean, clear air indoors. I tried turning the Coway off for a few hours when the Air Quality Index was in red. The difference was immediately noticeable. I don’t have any measurements to measure the efficacy of the unit on wildfire smoke, but in my qualitative experience, it makes a huge difference.

Living in an area where air quality can become tainted – which, given climate change, seems to be most areas of human habitation – I think a personal air filtration system is as important as water filtration and storage. It is the kind of thing you won’t spend much thought on until you need it, at which point its presence or absence can make a significant impact on quality of life.

I have not used any other air filter, so I’m not sure what the best option is, but I have no complaints about the Coway AP-1512HH beyond the LEDs. This past week has moved it from the would-not-purchase-again category firmly into my would-purchase-again-immediately category.

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A Reminder that Eneloops are a Good Buy

Recently I went through my Eneloop batteries, cycling those that I keep in devices. I decided to purchase another pack of AA and AAA batteries, not because I needed to replace any but because I have more devices to power. After ordering the new batch, I realized this was the first time I had purchased AA batteries in seven years. (I had purchased AAAs more recently – three years ago – again not to replace any, but because I needed more.) My seven year old batteries are still in service and hold on average 85% of their factory charge. I don’t intentionally cycle through the full set of batteries, so some sit in storage holding their charge for years.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

I started using Eneloop rechargeable batteries in 2011. The following year I purchased a programmable charger, allowing me to track the health of my batteries in git. When not in service I store the batteries in a Pelican 1060.

Suunto M-9

I wanted a compact compass for an upcoming trip. Not a real orienteering compass, but something more than a button compass like Suunto Clipper. I ended up with the Suunto M9. At 1.5 inches in diameter, it is roughly the size of a small watch. It features 5 degree gradations and a sighting notch for rough bearings. A ratcheting face with orientation indicators allows you to set direction of travel. To work with the sighting notch and window, the compass card uses a reverse numbering scheme: instead of looking at 12:00 to read your bearing, you look at the 6:00 position. This is unintuitive at first, but easy enough to adjust to. Suunto advertises the compass as waterproof, and the bastion of truth that is the Internet claims it to be divable to at least 200 feet. Tipping my scale at 10 grams, the M9 packs an impressive amount of capability for its miniscule size and weight.

Unfortunately, the Velcro strap it comes with is garbage. It’ll hold it on your wrist, but it is uncomfortable and I question the longevity and security of the attachment after prolonged exposure to mud, sweat, blood, and the tears of my enemies. Fortunately the M9 has 19mm lugs, which matches an old watch I had about a decade ago. I dug out the NATO Regimental strap I had used on that watch, threaded it onto the M9, and now I have a wrist compass I can feel pretty good about.

I only wish it had a global needle, but that would probably require a larger housing.

Suunto M9

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SKD PIG Alpha Gloves

I’m on my third pair of SKD PIG Alpha Gloves. My previous two pairs have lasted around 15 months. This current pair is on track for the same.

The gloves are lightweight, synthetic, and highly dexterous. While wearing them I am able to tie my shoes, pick up a penny, and load a .22 caliber magazine – all reliable tests for the dexterity of any glove. I wear the PIG Alpha Gloves every day on the bike, and am happy with the 15 month lifespan given both the intent of the glove and their cost.

They are a mechanics gloves, and should be compared to things like the Mechanix Original Covert. The Mechanix were my every day glove prior to purchasing my first pair of PIG Alpha Gloves in 2014. I find that the dexterity is the same in both, but the PIG Alpha Gloves are more comfortable and a bit more durable.

SKD PIG Alpha Glove

  • SKD PIG Alpha Glove
  • SKD PIG Alpha Glove

The greatest selling point of the PIG Alpha Gloves over most Mechanix models is the touch-screen compatible fingers. In earlier generations, SKD accomplished this by sewing silver thread into the index finger. This worked when the gloves were new, but quickly failed as the thread became dirty and began to fall out. SKD fixed this a couple years ago by replacing the silver thread with a conductive synthetic suede on the index finger and thumb. I’ve found that this works great, and continues to do so until the whole glove fails.

When the glove does begin to fail, it does so in the fingers. The fingers and palm are covered in ventilation holes, which slowly grow as the glove is abused. After this I find the stitching in the fingers will start to blow out. At that point I move on to the next pair.

The lightweight, synthetic materials of the PIG Alpha Gloves stay acceptably cool in hot weather. They’re not as cool as wearing no glove, and my hands will sweat wearing them, but I’ve never found them so uncomfortable that I want to take them off. The gloves provide no protection from the rain, but they dry within a few hours of being soaked.

Paracord loops on each cuff allow the gloves to be easily secured when not in use. I cut the D-ring off of the left shoulder strap of my Litespeed and replace it with an ITW Grimloc. This is where the gloves live when I’m off the bike.

SKD PIG Alpha Glove

The gloves do run a little small. I wear a size medium in just about every glove out there. In the PIG Alpha Gloves, size large fits me perfectly.

I purchased a pair of Magpul Core Technical Gloves back in 2015 when Magpul got into the glove game. These are meant to be in the same category of lightweight, dexterous, mechanics glove as the PIG Alpha Gloves and Mechanix, but I found them to be inferior to both offerings. The lack of adjustability in the wrist makes them annoying to put on and take off. The thicker material cuts down on dexterity (while probably improving durability) and makes them too warm to wear in hot weather. The touch screen finger tips are unreliable when the glove is dirty.

Dexterity and durability are inversely related in a glove, but the SKD PIG Alpha Gloves find a happy medium for my use. For poor weather conditions or mountain excursions, I still like gloves like the Kuiu Guide Gloves, but the mechanics glove is a better style for every day use. Right now I think the PIG Alpha Gloves are the best glove of this type on the market. I’ll continue to wear them every day and replace them every 15 months.

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