Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Aquamira Frontier Pro Max personal water filter

Tactical Trekker is back following a devastating shoulder injury in early November 2014 that tore everything in my right rotator cuff -- all tendons torn, some 100% through. Bicep tendon damaged so badly it had to be cut and relocated on anchors at the top of my humerus.

Following that was major surgery, 6 weeks immobilized in a brace, 7 months of physical therapy and ... finally strength training which is putting me on course for a return to the Sierras in a couple of months.

That slowed TT posts down.

But here's the first new one in many months ... and I'll be keeping up a lot better from this point forward.

Almost three years ago, I hacked the Pioneer Pro water filter and liked the results very much: Hacking The Pioneer Pro Water Filter McNett Water Filter Hack = Crazy Good.

As it turns out, Aquamira, the company who made the Pioneer Pro, created a new model that is a cinch to use without needing the hacks I created.

Unfortunately, the amount of effort needed to suck water through the filter is far harder than with the original model I hacked.

So hard that this would not be suitable for warm or hot weather hikes where moderate to high water consumption is vital to stay hydrated.

I've emailed the company to determine if I somehow got a model that was defective. But I have not heard back.

I cannot recommend this new model. $49.99 SRP

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Lightweight Trekking Pole That's NOT a Lightning Rod

Trusty White Alder trekking pole. I've just made my way over a pass in the
Hoover Wilderness Area on the way to Summit Lake in 2012

I've written frequently about the quest to slim down my backpack. 50 pounds was my standard for many years since I seemed to be able to haul that anywhere without any problem. But that began to get old as I entered by sixties, so I slimmed it down to 40 pounds by my 65th birthday last year.

One of the areas I have looked at was my trekking pole I fashioned more than 20 years from a White Alder limb left over from some trail clearing. I looked at lighter alternatives -- primarily aluminum alloys and carbon fiber. But both of those are electrical conductors.

Another word for electrical conductor, especially at high Sierra elevations, is "lightning rod." I have had my own close calls and have friends who have been struck and injured or killed:

Shoulder Injury Prompted Reconsideration Of My Old Trusty White Alder Pole 

It's easy enough to become a crispy critter while trekking with a lightning rod, so  I stuck with my old White Alder pole. 

Then, in early November 2014, a catastrophic injury to my right shoulder requiring extensive surgery has made me take a new look. I am still in physical therapy and may or may not recover quickly enough to get back to the Sierras this year.

I was recently cleared to hike with a day pack of 15 or 20 pounds. But with the recovering shoulder and muscles that are only now being rebuilt after being totally immobilized for the first 2 months, having a lighter trekking pole has moved back up to the top of my list.

In addition, the White Alder has continued to develop a severe curve as it ages and dries.  Compare the photo of the pole above to this one taken just yesterday:

Trusty White Alder pole no longer straight.
After extensive searching, I have been unable to find an alternative to metal and carbon fiber.

Inspiration From An Unlikely Place  

Inspiration from polymer handles.
Yard work is not my favorite task. But I got an idea while I was looking at the objects that were leading me to drudgery.

Note the polymer handles on the yard rake (left, next to the big wide shovel) and shovel (center, background.)

So, with this inspiration in mind, I headed to the local hardware store and bought a yard rake and a leaf rake, both with polymer handles.

Easy Basic Rake Hack

This is not hard:

Drill out the rivet. 

Pull off the  tines. 

Voila! Trekking pole.

Drill out the rivet. This is the yard rake
which turned out to be heavier
and longer than needed.
I found the smaller leaf rake handle to be perfect. And it weighed 14 ounces. The White Alder weighed 1 pound, 14 ounces. The weight-lightening task of slimming down a pack is usually one of saving a few ounces here and there. 

Getting a one-pound savings in one fell swoop is a victory. And will make hiking easier as my shoulder recovers.

Adding a crutch tip to the open end will add another ounce. No big thing.

Leaf rake before ...

... and after, the leaf rake becomes a lightweight trekking pole
without being a lightning rod.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Another Horrible Tee-Shirt Job By CafePress

I've had requests from readers for Tactical Trekker tee-shirts, so I gave CafePress a second try.

I tried a couple of years ago and they royally screwed up the manufacturing.

So, I figured, maybe they had gotten their act together and decided to try again. So,  before promoting the shirts, I ordered one to see how well they would do.

The answer: Abysmal! Again!

The design was supposed to be black on a maroon shirt ... not black with some ragged, crappy white stuff.

And here is a close-up of the screw-up.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Top Ten Reasons For High Sierra Mountaineering

  1. Stars! More stars than even God can count. The Milky Way really IS milky.
  2. No straight-pipe Harleys bleeting like the dying farts of wounded warthogs.
  3. Early dawn, late sunset. 
  4. Rattlesnakes and bears are mostly down below the tree line. So are almost all of the people.
  5. No cell service or WiFi.
  6. Knowing the meaning of genuine silence. 
  7. And the pure voice of the wind which runs rampant up high.
  8. Solitude.
  9. No text-distracted drivers.
  10. No Kardashians.
  11. To be continued.

Monday, February 16, 2015

This Rugged Case & Fantastic Topo App Let You Replace Your GPS And Camera With Your iPhone

Eliminating unnecessary weight makes a trek easier and a lot more enjoyable. I've written extensively in this space about ways to shed ounces that can save a lot of pounds (iPhone & Topo Maps App Offer Freedom From Garmin Oppression, Hacking The Pioneer Pro Water Filter)

 In my case, I've been able to replace both my GPS and camera with my iPhone.

The retractable tether attached to this Snow Lizard case
allows quick easy use of your iPhone as a camera or GPS.
 Right-click image to enlarge.
This is a total net weight success because I don't like leaving my iPhone at the trailhead and had been carrying it -- turned off -- as dead weight in my pack.

The solution, pictured at left, took a couple of years, new product intros and some MacGyver hacking to be ready for its first test last July (2014).

The test was successful and allows me to replace both my GPS and my camera with my iPhone.

In The Beginning ...

My journey started in 2012 on a summit of Mt. Langley Climbing Mt. Langley: Slow Ascent, Lightning Descent.

I carried both my Garmin and my iPhone 4 loaded with TopoMaps App.

I found that the iPhone got satellite lock faster, held it better in forested areas and was equally accurate as determined by unequivocal landmarks on a paper topo. And it performed flawlessly at 14,000+ feet. The iPhone app had other advantages over the Garmin as described here.

Then, in late December 2012 on a trek to the California Matterhorn, I also found the iPhone GPS performed perfectly at -20 degrees F.

But to eliminate the keeping the iPhone handy while also being waterproof and safe from damage then became the issue.

In Search of WaterPROOF ... (As Opposed to WaterRESISTANT)

Before I could use my iPhone to replace anything, I had to protect it from weather, dirt, fording streams and the rugged demands of things like Class 2 and 3 climbing. And my own clumsiness since I have always been able to sabotage myself with my own two feet.

Early on, I found any number of ways to keep the iPhone dry and safe from dust and mud (Lok-Sak: Passes The Home Drowning Test) but keeping it from getting smashed and broken is another story.

Snow Lizard SLXTREME 5/5S.
 Right-click image to enlarge.

My first purchase was a Mophie case to protect from shock with the added advantage of extended batter life.

But the Mophie was not waterPROOF and the material covering the screen too thin to protect the phone's faceto the extent needed by a trekker who is oh so capable of falling on his face while fording a stream (True story. Silver King Valley, Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, 2012)

Plus, getting the iPhone in and out of the Mophie case was a hassle.

Coupled with this was the fact that there was no wasy way to keep the phone handy for easy consultation with GPS positions.

And while the Garmin had a carabiner, that was still a bit awkward for frequent GPS referencing ...  clip, unclip, clip (rinse, repeat)

The solution to rugged, waterPROOF and convenient started with a new iPhone 5 and the Snow Lizard case pictured above.The SLXTREME 5/5S has a suggested retail price of $149 but I bought mine at Amazon for $99.

In addition to being waterproof to 3 meters (about 6.6 feet), it's easy to get the phone in and out of, and a 2550mAh batterypack. It has a solar cell on one side for trickle charging (see image on right).

The covering of the solar cell is rugged in its own right as attested to a thrashing it got during an intense climb over a steep granite boulder-filled ravine climb in 2014 that left a brand-new pair of boots scarred.

The case also comes with excellent optics so you can get great photos with the iPhone camera ... under water or out. And save more weight by leaving the camera at home unless you are after huge resolution images.

Usability: Some MacGyvering Required

Maximum usability requires that both GPS and camera (now in one unit along with campsite reading material) need to be easily and readily accessible. Security against dropping and breaking/losing the device is also vital.

Snow Lizard case as deployed.
Solar cell oriented to sun.
Right-click image to enlarge.
Carabiners are secure but  not convenient. And like neck straps (convenient) tend to flop around while hiking.

No one needs a bunch of loose gear slapping and thudding ... or getting caught in brush and slamming against rocks.

While still in the inelegant stage, my solution to usability and security (pictured at right) came by combining the Snow Lizard case with a retractable tether.

 Because I am right handed, the tether is  attached to my backpack strap.

Let The MacGyvering Begin

To work properly, the Snow Lizard case had to be attached high on the shoulder strap to keep it clear of the armpit and yet still easy to grasp.

It also has to be secured against flopping around. The short loop of small black bungee cord in the image, above, works well despite its inelegance. It keeps the case secure without obscuring much of the solar cell.

Geer Keeper retractable tether
Right-click image to enlarge.
I bought a "deluxe" Geer Keeper from Amazon for $24.99, but none of the provided attachment mechanisms would work for the vertical strap on my backpack.

However, the snap attached to the top of the Gear Keeper (at left) detaches to provide an attachment point that can be combined with a Tri-Glide adapter from McNett (below).

McNett Tri-Glide adapter
Right-click image to enlarge.

To make this work requires the use of four small zip ties to attach the top of the Gear Keeper to the bottom of the Tri-Glide adapter once it is snapped shut.

Then the top of the Tri-Glide is attached to the backpack's load-lifter strap (below) and snapped shut.

Again, not elegant, but secure and functional.

Four zip ties and a Tri-Glid adapter attached to
backpack load lifter strap. Scratches on Gear Keeper
body from first trek with case.
Right-click image to enlarge.

Attachment point for Snow Lizard case.
The Snow Lizard case comes with an attachment point (right)  and carabiner, but as mentioned above a carabiner reduces easy access to using both the camera and GPS. Using the carabiner also makes everything hang down lower and gets in the way of arm motion.

The Gear Keeper has a split-ring attachment, but that also adds to the "hang-down" problem.

Gear Keeper attached to Snow Lizard case. Photo taken before
first trek.

Right-click image to enlarge.
A medium zip tie replaces the split ring and helps with the hang-down issue.

4 Ways The Snow Lizard Can Be Improved

1. Create a retractable tether that would snap on to the Snow Lizard Case or mount snugly to the carabiner mounting point. Either of those would also improve the hang-down issue.

2. Make a clip that mounts the tether to a backpack strap without the need for dramatic zip tie acrobatics. Use a clip that is secure but can be removed from the strap without excess difficulty.

Attachment point not rugged enough.
3.Strengthen the Snow Lizard case attachment point. The current one is vulnerable to ending/cracking/snapping. While the current attachment point may be suitable for casual activity, it does not seem to be as rugged as the rest of the case.

Belt attachment for Snow Lizard case.

Right-click image to enlarge.

4. Provide a strap-mountable clip for the case. Snow Lizard current offers a belt clip which can be had for $19.99.  (left)

However, other than hysterically re-manufacturing the clip in my workshop, I found that it could not practically be hacked to be mounted on my backpack strap.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Stuff sack converts to day pack.

A lot of my backpacking in the Sierras involves a backpack to base camp at 10,000 or 12,000 feet.

Overnight then a day hike to bag a peak.

Another overnight and then home the next day.

On peak-bagger days in the past, I've emptied most of the contents of my backpack and used that for the day. This is not ideal because my 80-liter backpack is bulky, awkward, likes to snag in tight places, and is heavier empty than I'd like.

Then earlier this year, I was delighted to find REI's Flash 18 minimalist day pack. Even my winter -10F sleeping bag fits in it.

The Flash 18 holds 18 liters and weighs 11 ounces. My regular sleeping bag stuff sack weighs 3 ounces, so I added net 8 ounces to the load up to base camp. But at $34 it's worth every ounce. I picked mine up on sale for $18.

The straps are light but comfortable and keep sweat from accumulating.

The sternum and waist straps keep the pack well-adjusted and tight to the body for better balance and minimum clearance in tight spaces.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Choose Boots Wisely To Prevent Achilles Tendon Injuries

Boots and other high-topped shoes should follow
the gentle arc of the Achilles tendon.

Achilles Tendon problems have plagued me since college.

Stretching, strengthening and gradually increasing  training distances (especially hills) has helped prevent or minimize injuries. I've done several marathons, half-marathons and a lot of mountaineering in the Sierra without problems.

But at the beginning of Sierra backpacking season in 2013, my old  Columbia boots finally fell apart after about a decade of hard use. Columbia no longer makes that boot style. And I found their new styles not rugged or supportive enough for a 50-pound pack in the mountains.

My search since then took me through five pairs of other boots. The first four produced Achilles tendon pain and swelling. Images of numbers 3-5, are discussed below.

No amount of training helped me with the first four pairs of new boots. And the pain vanished when I didn't wear the books. Long distance runs and extreme slope trail running (with pack) were all fine as long as I wore my running shoes.


With help from the web and several podiatrists, boot number five solved the problem.

Take a look at the illustration of the foot, above. A proper fit in a boot would be for the high top to follow the gradual curve at the back, parallelling the Achilles tendon.

Gradual curve, not extreme like the first two boots, below.
Asolo boots. Extreme angle pressed into Achilles tendon.
Solomon boots. Lower cut, but still too much of an angle in. Also pressed on Achilles tendon.

Vasque boots. Gentle angle. Did not press on Achilles tendon.
The Vasques performed fantastically on their first outing this year, to the California Matterhorn in the Eastern Sierras. I'm currently repairing the scrape and cut damage to them done by clambering over a vicious sharp granite boulder field. But no complaints about the boots.

Note: all photos were taken from the same angle and distance. A square was used to position all the boots the same.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stay Hydrated To Stay Alive And Perform At Your Max

I spend a lot of time on this site dealing with hydration (Most recently, Camelbak: Take The Tactical Valve Up The Mountain.). That's because not hydrating or doing it wrong can hurt or kill.

Rule #1: Hydrate properly BEFORE you begin exercise and slowly maintain hydration otherwise you may never catch up. If you have any doubt, monitor your urine color. If it's school-bus yellow or darker you are under hydrated. Try starting strenuous exercise when it's almost clear.

Rule #2: Make sure you replace electrolytes and carbs. That can be mixed in with water or nibbled as a replacement bar or gel snack. Note that "energy" drinks and bars are not good for hydration. The Air Force has recently issued a health warning about those: Energy drinks in downrange DFACs

The best details on the rest of the rules can be found at the Department of Defense's Human Performance Resource center: Staying hydrated during exercise.

Here's a taste of that well-written article:
"Water and electrolytes (sodium/Na+, potassium/K+, chloride/Cl, and others) serve very important roles in the functioning of the body, and sweating can lead to excessive losses of both critical nutrients if not properly replaced.

"Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can adversely impact health and exercise performance. The magnitude of fluid and sweat losses during exercise depends on the intensity of the exercise, environmental conditions, and the type of clothing worn during the exercise.

"To avoid excessive fluid and electrolyte losses, a person should begin exercising in a well-hydrated state. About two hours prior to strenuous exercise, drink approximately 20 fl oz (500ml) of liquid to ensure proper hydration at the onset of exercise.

"Consuming sufficient fluids during exercise will influence cardiovascular, thermoregulatory, and muscle function, as well as hydration status.

"To avoid dehydration, 13–32 fl oz (400–1,000 ml) of fluid should be consumed every hour by drinking small amounts frequently: 3–8 fl oz (100–250 ml) every 15 minutes or 8–11 fl oz (250 – 330 ml) every 20 minutes.

"Water is fine if the exercise is of short duration, but if the exercise is longer than one hour, the fluid should contain carbohydrates (from sugars) and electrolytes (from salts).
"The addition of carbohydrates to a fluid replacement drink can enhance intestinal absorption of water and help maintain blood glucose concentration during exercise, which may preserve muscle glycogen (sugar storage) and thereby delay fatigue."

Read the rest: Staying hydrated during exercise.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Nikwax = For Amateurs & Wannabes

People tell me that the solution in a Nikwax bottle works. But the method of application is a long, messy and incomplete product suitable for amateurs and wannabes, not a serious backpacker/outdoorsperson.

Instead of being intelligent and putting their product in a bottle with a sprayer that you pump with your finger, they have this sponge applicator that is inconsistent at best.

This piece of bad design fails to cover consistently, will not get between lace eyelets and lugs, will not get under the lug where the leather can fail for lack of treatment and will not get the liquid into areas where one layer of leather is stitched to another unless ...

... Unless you just squeeze the heck out of the bottle and make it drip all over the place so you can get into the tight spaces. Even then, you have to wrestle with a dripping boot.

I had to go back over each boot three times in order to get the whole boot treated. In the top picture, look at all the light-colored spots. Those are from the uneven coverage that required one more treatment.

Nikwax obviously has no one with serious boots to test this on. 

Anyone with a recommendation for a serious, professional solution please leave a comment.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fixing Leaky Asolo Boots

Bought these about six months ago, and really liked the support and fit for the mountains.

As you may know, we've had a drought in California and have not had much in the way of rain.

So the first time I wear them in the rain, the left boot leaks a little at the toe. Then leaks more. Soon the left sock is soaked. Just from falling rain, not from immersing it in a puddle or stream.

I've worn Asolos for years and never had that problem. So, I figure it's a seam in the Gore-Tex liner that didn't seal. I've applied two thin coats of Shoe Goo to all the seams, the lace cleats and the fabric at the very bottom of the vamp. I hope that solves the issue.

Now for some Nikwax to the entire boot and wait for rain.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Trans Fats and MREs - A Balancing Act Required

High-altitude trekking can mean some pretty awful eating, especially if you pack along those freeze-fried meals. Those are never very palatable under the best of conditions, but at an 11,000-foot base camp, they are a recipe for runny eggs and really sloppy slop.


Because the temperature at which water boils gets lower the higher you climb. At 11,000 feet, water boils at 191 degrees (F). That's low enough so that it cools much faster when you pour it into a pouch of freeze-dried food. This means that the water never completely re-constitutes the dried food, leaving it runny, gritty and unpalatable.

I have found this even worse during winter backpacks in the Sierras where it can be far below zero at 11,000 feet. Boiling water barely thaws the freeze-dried stuff and fails to reconstitute it. Sure, you can always take a pot, partially reconstitute it there and then try washing the pot afterwards.

I take MREs instead.

That does mean that I am packing water up the mountain. But I have found the extra weight worth the effort. I heat the MRE pouch in the boiling water, eat it from the pouch, collapse the pouch and stick it in my bear-proof container for backpacking the trash out. Yeah, I do have to wash my long-handled, titanium spoon. Which you can do in the snow if needed. No freezing fingers required.

As an added benefit, I have found all the MREs palatable. All are better than you can get at a chain restaurant like Applebees and some are actually really, really good.


After two decades of scientific research showing that trans fats will help kill you (Mayo Clinic: Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health) the FDA has continued its tradition of leading from way behind and has slouched toward banning them in civilian food (FDA moves to take trans fat out of food).

However, that ban does not apply to MREs

And almost everything in the familiar plastic pack contains partially hydrogenated oils (Trans fats) of one sort of another because those help extend the shelf life of the food long enough for archeologists of the year 3013 to find them as safe and yummy as ever.

But, let's face it: going mal- and un-nourished in country for an extended time saps energy and concentration and makes you an easier target. And there's no argument that enemy incominwill kill you a lot faster than a heart attack.

However, most members of the armed forces are the staff of the spear and not the point.

This means that the chow served should be as healthy as civilian fare. FOBs, obviously don't have cafeterias, but whenever you can, avoid the trans fats in MREs and other foods otherwise you're in the crosshairs of the enemy within.

(I will admit that regardless of where I am, I will chow down on the clam chowder which -- to my plebian palate -- is as good as any restaurant's. )

A Close Look At Menu #9

Here's a look at one MRE pack: Menu 9. Everything has partially hydrogenated oils -- trans fats -- except the jalepeno cheese spreads which is one of my favorite breakfast treats. Sadly, that's usually spread on the cracker.

Clearly, I eat the MRE when needed. And avoid the trans fats when I can. Balance is everything.

You might also enjoy this piece:  Matching Military MREs & Wine?


Saturday, December 14, 2013

In Praise Of Maximum Warm, Minimum Cost

Forget all the massively expensive cold-weather layers, this USMC issue Polartec Power Dry Classic 100 half-zip fleece pullover is the best #2 warmth layer you can buy. Usually between $50 and $40 on eBay.

Paired as a number #2 layer with a decent base and solid #3 and shell, this kept me toasty snowshoeing and backpacking  in -20 (F) and blowing snow at 12,000+ft  in the winter Sierras a dozen miles south of  the USMC's Mountain Warfare Training Center.

Works well by itself at lower altitudes and warmer (30 degree) temps. Durable, takes a beating and keeps on heating.