Saturday, June 25, 2011

Searching for a Headlamp

I'm in the process of searching for the perfect LED headlamp for me to have easy, hands-free portable light. A few years ago, I bought one by Energizer for about US$10 that has wonderful features. It's just too bad the headband is too tight and isn't replaceable.

After that, I bought a Nite Ize headband designed to adapt mini flashlights such as my Mini Maglite into headlamps. Unfortunately, I find it best used as a neckband to help support the flashlight on my shoulder and actually prefer to clip the flashlight onto a regular neck lanyard which gives me general lighting although I rather have lighting that's more specific to my task at hand.

Exit stage left, a Rayovac headlamp for less than $6 at Wal-Mart. The headband is very comfortable but the battery compartment is extremely difficult for me to press to open. Although the white light is okay, the single red LED has a large dark circle in the middle of its light.

Enter stage right, a Coleman Max headlamp for nearly $25 at Wal-Mart. This has high beam, low beam, lower beam, plus red and blue LEDs. The headband is adjustable and replaceable. The battery compartment is the easiest to open of the three I've tried, having its own tool as part of the headband adjustment. Very nice. However, I think its having so many sexy features made it too heavy for my delicate head.

Back to the store for another try.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Tent

A year ago, I decided to buy a new hiking tent. There's nothing wrong with the hiking tent I already have other than it isn't free-standing and I don't like having to contort myself to get around the center pole blocking the entrance.

I shopped until I dropped last year, not finding any tent I liked well enough to buy. Either the tents weren't free-standing, the ceilings were too low, the carry weight too heavy, or the cost too high.

This year, I settled on the Kelty Salida 2 which came out just last year.

Now, all I have to do is wait for this unbearably hot weather to subside.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Traveler's Key Ring

I've been fiddling with my traveler's key ring and decided I may as well post the list.

It originated many years ago when I got tired of digging out a coin every time I wanted to use my tripod. That was before getting a tripod with a quick-release mount. I put a coin-like screwdriver onto a split-ring and hung it on my waistband with a belt clip. Items gradually accumulated until last weekend when I decided to see how everything fit into my 15 Essential Systems.

1. Navigation - luminous compass, mini highlighter. I used to have a Suunto Clipper on a fob I liberated from a cheap no-name compass that developed a honking huge bubble during the first part of my road trip in 2006. Before getting the Suunto, I tried using one of those several-function compass-whistle contraptions, but the compass was too small, the luminous points too dim, and the whistle too soft.

I bought a Brunton 9041 last year so I wouldn't have to move the Clipper from my car key ring to my traveler's key ring and back again. Currently, the 9041 is kept on a small carabiner so it's easy to remove from the split-ring to avoid letting other metal objects influence the compass.

As for the highlighter, I plan my routes using a yellow highlighter and use a darker color to mark where I actually go since I travel with a "that looks interesting" attitude and often stray from my intended path whether driving or walking. It helps me get back on track and is a reminder of what I did and where I went after the trip is over and I'm back home. The mini highlighter, bought at Staples, is a Sharpie Accent with a metal loop on the cap to attach it to a key ring.

2. Personal Attire.

3. Hydration.

4. Shelter - mini umbrella. Since this goes on another belt clip on the other side of my waistband when it looks like it might rain, it really doesn't count although it could. That's why I am.

5. Communication - Fox 40 Micro whistle, Trekker Space Pen. Every woman needs a loud, dependable whistle at hand and I don't like digging around in my purse for a pen whenever I want to make a note, either.

Fisher Space pens and the pressurized Space refills made for other pens are great because they write on any paper, even that slick thermal stuff, under any temperature, at any angle including the gravity-defying position of upside-down.

6. Fire - Spark-Lite, invented by the owner of Four Seasons Survival and also distributed by Adventure Medical Kits, or a Mini Swedish FireSteel by Light My Fire. This is an offshoot from my hiker's survival necklace. Realizing I got carried away with this preparedness endeavor and having too many items on my traveler's key ring, I put the sparker on a second small carabiner to live in my travel purse until needed. Since the Spark-Lite doesn't come with a lanyard, I duct-taped the melted and knotted ends of 1/8" orange utility cord onto the stem of the Spark-Lite.

I occasionally swap the two sparkers because I can't decide which I prefer to have where. The Spark-Lite is operated with one hand so is probably better for hiking where the potential for getting injured is greater. However, a Swedish FireSteel is much easier for me to use.

7. Illumination - Garrity key ring LED. Acknowledging this is never used until it's too dark for me to see without it, I relegated it to live in my travel purse on my second carabiner with my sparker until needed.

8. Nutrition - P-51 can opener, bottle cap lifter-can punch. For those who don't know, the P-51 is the big brother of the P-38 military can opener. The other is an Ekco Pocket Boy I happened to see in a local grocery store. It folds in half making it a nice size for key rings. To reduce weight and the number of items on my traveler's key ring, I added these to my second carabiner as well.

9. FAK, Health - Chapstick in a Leashable, Pro Tick remover. The Leashable is a clip-on neoprene holder that came with a tube of different lip balm. I borrow the Pro Tick remover from my hiking survival necklace for areas where I might encounter ticks I'd want to remove as soon as possible. Maybe I should buy another tick remover to ensure I don't forget it.

10. Repair & Tools - Craftsman 9-4160 screwdriver, Swiss Army Knife Classic model, ResQMe. The Craftsman 4-in-1 screwdriver I bought at Sears is what got me started on creating my traveler's key ring. Even though my current Slik tripod has a quick-release mount, I still use it to change over to my mini tripod, and change batteries and memory cards.

The SAK is now on the second carabiner in my travel purse and will have to be left behind or put in checked luggage when I fly.

The ResQMe only goes on my traveler's key ring when I rent a car. Otherwise, it remains on my house key ring for when I ride with other people since my own car has a LifeHammer mounted on the center console.

11. Documentation - USB drive. It fits into a clip-on holder and contains a copy of my current computer files since my laptop and backup external hard drive were both stolen in 2007. Eventually, I'll get around to putting report-loss-to phone numbers and critical information on it, password-protected, of course, if not encrypted.

12. Finances - emergency cash in a fob. I saw what looked like spy capsules online, designed to hold one or two folded and rolled bills in a key ring fob. CVS and Wal-Mart have good-sized pill fobs that will hold more which I think is better since I prefer to have easier-to-spend ten and twenty dollar bills than fifties and hundreds.

I may be wrong, but when it comes to traveling, I think of emergency cash in terms of a few meals and maybe cab fare back to my lodging where I can use the phone to get stolen credit/debit cards replaced or to a bank to cash a check. Never one to carry much over $25, I once spent six weeks with nothing more than a dime and a penny in my wallet. Hey, if I don't have it on me, I can't spend it, right?

13. Transportation.

14. Entertainment - pocket kite. Yup, a mini kite on a key ring means I'm ready to fly a kite any time there's enough breeze and the room for it.

15. Security & Self-defense - the same Fox 40 whistle in 5. Communication and the same USB drive in 11. Documentation. Having the USB drive on me is more secure or makes me feel like it is because losing all the work I did over the 10 months to that point of my trip was terrible.

There it is. Twelve categories out of fifteen on a key ring! Admittedly, it's better to wear it under a blouse that isn't tucked in to avoid looking like a building superintendent, but it's a great convenience to have often-used items at my fingertips and a comfort knowing I can add the items of the second carabiner back to it at any time.

To recap, the 17 items are:

On my traveler's key ring clipped to my waistband - highlighter, kite*, lip balm, pen, pill fob, ResQMe*, screwdriver, tick remover*, USB drive, whistle, luminous compass on a small utility carabiner.

On my second carabiner - Ekco Pocket Boy, LED flashlight, P-51, sparker, SAK.

On another belt clip - umbrella*.

* when conditions warrant it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


This past week was spent trying to trim a packing list down to only what will fit in a carry-on bag. I've yet to succeed.

This is odd for me since I've traveled with only a carry-on before without any problems, but I didn't save any of those packing lists. Besides, this time, I'm organizing my packing list according to the 15 Essential Systems.

As a result, after I get this list done, I'm planning to use it as the basis for a master packing list that will have additional components for such things as kite-flying and motel camping during road trips.

That way, I'll already have my packing list and will only have to copy it to make a new file then delete whatever won't be needed for the current trip. I thought about simply printing it and crossing off what I won't need, but don't want to waste the paper and ink printing unneeded items and want to keep a record of what I packed for various trips. If I find something that consistently isn't being used, I can delete it from my master list unless it's a preparedness item such as my whistle or water purification tablets.

I don't think it's the preparedness items that are making me have too much for a carry-on. I think it's having clothing for temperatures ranging from 45° to 80° F. Theoretically, I should be able to layer a shirt over a top, adding thermal underwear, a beret or knit cap, convertible mittens, and a windbreaker if I get cold. Or, not wear either the overshirt or the top if I get too warm.

It isn't the quantity of clothing, either. Except for one or two sets of thermal underwear, I'm planning on three sets of underwear (one to wear, one to wash, and one for spare), two skirts, one pair of pants, two long-sleeved shirts, two short-sleeved tops, and one of my summer seersucker dresses to double as a nightgown to eliminate my needing a robe to go down the hall. That isn't much for a three-week trip. It isn't much for a one-week trip.

For footwear, I'm planning on one pair of shoes or boots that I'll wear plus flip-flops that I'll pack, so that's not the problem.

Thinking about it as I write this post, I think the problem is my tripod. Since 9-11, some airlines have been ignoring the Bern Convention that says camera equipment is exempt from carry-on limitations, so I'm planning to pack it into my carry-on instead of carrying it separately in its own case as I did prior to 9-11. However, doing so may mean I'll end up checking a bag. Damn terrorists!

I've also been considering different backpacks for my Grab & Go bag. I nearly decided on one before realizing it has about the same capacity as my travel pack which qualifies as a carry-on bag for air travel. That's too small since I want to be able to carry camping equipment as well in case I decide to get into backpacking which sounds really good to me right now.

Finally, thinking about cooking, eating, and sleeping outdoors whether I get a backpack or not, I started working on a camping list based on my 15 Essential Systems. I plan to create the list, then see what I actually have and which items I need to buy to fill in the holes. I think I already have everything and using the 15 Essential Systems to organize my list will ensure I do.