Tag Archives: backpacking

First Aid Kit for multi-day backpacking trips

Gear talk: First Aid Kit

It is perfectly possible to go on a walk carrying no first aid capability at all. However knowing how to cope with issues and carrying something to deal with blisters, cuts, strains, allergic reaction, chafing or even diarrhoea can make completing a hike both possible and more enjoyable. 

Bags and pouches of small stuff carried on longer hikes

Bags and pouches of small stuff carried on longer hikes. My First Aid Kit is bottom left

Three Points of the Compass tends to compartmentalise gear while on trail. It makes it easier to find items quickly when required, protects them from getting wet and ensures that nothing is lost. Previously I have looked at my hydration, hygiene and ditty bag preferences. My First Aid Kit is just one of the various pouches carried. Currently this is a small DCF zippable pouch made by Tread Lite Gear. The kit weighs 161g, a great deal more than most would carry, but means that I can deal with injuries or ailments that I am most likely to suffer from while on trail. First Aid Kits are deeply personal and contents can, and should, vary for everyone. Note that Three Points of the Compass is not a medical practitioner and this is by no means a recommendation on what you should take. I have had some first aid training, I am a seasoned hiker and am familiar with how to deal with most problems my body will suffer from while on trail. That said, for the great majority of my hikes, this kit never gets opened unless I need the mirror, nail clippers or file.

Contents of First Aid Kit

161g First Aid Kit

Contents of my multi-day backpacking First Aid Kit:

  • 15cm x 10cm rectangle of Opsite Flexifix. Thin, vapour permeable, waterproof and bacteria proof transparent adhesive film. Cut to size, applied over dressing covering cleaned scrapes and skin trauma.
  • 1 x 10cm x 10cm Melolin dressing- flexible film. Non-woven breathable dressing for cuts and grazes. Conforms to body contours, good for awkward injuries on elbows and knees
  • 1 x 5cm x 5cm Aquacel hydrofiber dressings. Non-woven fibres form a gel on contact with cavity wound fluid. Antimicrobial properties
  • 5 x 7.5cm x 7.5cm sterile gauze swabs
  • 5 x 3mm steri-strip skin closures
  • 2 x fabric plasters- not many carried, two for being immediately to hand, otherwise fashion from gauze and tape as required
  • 1 x 2g sachet Celox haemostatic agent- good for stopping oozing or bad bleeds
  • Flexible 80mm x 40mm Victorinox mirror- with central sighting hole. Kept in small dedicated baggie to stop the mirror face scratching- Useful for facial injuries and tick checks, also when shaving
  • 1m of 50mm Hypafix tape- cut to fit plaster, fixing gauze etc. 
  • 1m of 50mm KT tape- latex free kinesiology tape. Muscle strains, tendonitis. Also acts as cut to fit plaster and potentially splinting
  • Cohesive bandage- a lighter and smaller option than the more effective Ace bandage
  • 4 x clean, sealed compressed towlettes- Cleaning wounds etc.
  • Single nappy pin
  • Uncle Bill’s Sliver Gripper tweezers- not the best but small and convenient
  • Victorinox nail clippers- model 8.2050 B1- hand and foot care, probably not required on every trail but light enough to always include
  • Glass crystal nail file- hand and foot care. long lasting and better than a metal or emery file
  • No. 10 Scalpel blade- clean, a better option than a mucky knife blade for wounds and cutting flaps of loose skin etc.
  • O’Tom Tick Twisters- good tick tweezers are an essential item on trail
  • Westcott titanium embroidery scissors- small, light and well made, for cutting gauze and tape
  • Betadine- antiseptic (10% povidine iodine). In 2ml glass bottle with orifice reducer. Cuts, scrapes and burns
  • Small sealed straw tube of Dermovate ointment- steroid ointment for inflamed skin conditions
  • 28g tube Lanacane. Anti-chafe gel
  • 8 x Ibuprofen- pain killer, treats fever and anti-inflammation. Note these are 400mg, not the more commonly seen 200mg
  • 6 x Aspirin 300mg- pain killer, no anti-inflammatory properties. Heart attack!
  • 7 x Loratadine- anti-allergy
  • 5 x Piriton- Chlorphenamine maleate- anti-allergy. (also helps you sleep if absolutely necessary)

  • 3 x Imodium plus comfort- Loperamide hydrochloride with simethicone- in the event of stomach upset, life could potentially be pretty miserable if these are not to hand

As you can see, there is quite a bit to the contents of my First Aid Kit. This has been refined over many years and modern products have occasionally taken the place of items that I used to include. Two simple and efficient tapes have replaced my micropore, leucotape, transpore or leucosilk tapes formerly carried. I carried an Ace bandage for many years, great that they are, they are also very bulky and not an insignificant weight penalty. The cohesive bandage has replaced that though it is still a weighty inclusion. Much of the rest of the weight of this kit comes from a full tube of anti-chafe gel, a decent set of nail clippers and good scissors. There are some items that I used to carry that I struggled to now exclude- nitrile gloves, resuscitation face shield, silicone toe cots and yet more tape amongst them.

Note that the above is my First Aid Kit for longer, multi-day, backpacking trips. With these contents I expect to be able to complete a hike with no need to seek out a pharmacy or similar. Contents will last me many weeks and I take considerably less with me on a single day hike. Medicants and other expiry dates are checked regularly and replaced as required.

An earlier incarnation of the First Aid Kit carried by Three Points of the Compass. Though reduced since, many of the contents are the same. Arnamurchan 2018

An earlier incarnation of the First Aid Kit carried by Three Points of the Compass. Though reduced since, many of the contents are the same. Ardnamurchan 2018

The contents of my First Aid kit, and the bag or pouch it is all gathered together in, have varied considerably over my hiking years. No doubt it will continue to evolve. When accompanied by Mrs Three Points of the Compass, or when our young daughter used to accompany us, this will influence the contents to a degree, despite both of them also carrying a kit refined to their own particular needs. Hiking overseas has also altered the inclusion of medications. 

Finally, two further comments on my First Aid kit. It is ideally easily accessed from my pack with just one hand. I keep my First Aid Kit in an outer pocket of my smaller Osprey pack on day hikes, and within the top of my Gossamer Gear Mariposa on multi-day hikes. While the DCF pouch containing my First Aid Kit is highly water resistant, it is not completely waterproof, so is also double protected, being kept within the pack liner, possibly also within an additional zip-lock if the weather is especially harsh.

Roll call on the Cape Wrath Trail. Scotland was VERY wet during this hike and it rained heavily on many days. First Aid Kit, electronics and ditty bag were all double protected from water ingress, being kept together in a sealed bag

Roll call on the Cape Wrath Trail. Scotland was VERY wet during this hike and it rained heavily on many days. First Aid Kit, electronics and ditty bag were all double protected from water ingress, being kept together in a sealed bag. And yes, Three Points of the Compass did carry O.S. maps, Harvey map AND Cicerone trail guide. Used maps were posted home whenever a post office was passed

My next glance at the small bags and pouches of ‘stuff’ carried on trail shall be my 2020 electronics pouch. The contents of which have probably changed most amongst all of my back-packing gear over the years as advances in technology have progressed.

 

Ditty bag contents in 2020

Gear talk: ditty bag contents

On longer lonelier trails, with habitation potentially days away, a handful of carefully thought out simple and lightweight pieces of gear can solve a problem, make life a little more comfortable, or even prevent injury or worse

On longer lonelier trails, with habitation potentially days away, a handful of carefully thought out simple and lightweight pieces of gear can solve a problem, make life a little more comfortable, or even prevent injury or worse, photographed Scottish Highlands

It is a number of years since I showed the contents of my hiking ditty bag. That place where I keep this ‘n’ that, bits ‘n’ pieces, spare stuff, repair stuff, essential stuff, non-essential stuff and ‘where the hell else can I keep this?’ stuff while on trail.

Ditty bag

Ditty bag

I am not going to delve much into weights here. These contents are the type of thing that is personal to everyone. What I show here is pretty lightweight and what I have evolved to what I like to have with me. Every single item listed here has been used by myself on trail but I am more than aware that many would not even bother to pack along the type of things I do, fine.

Quilt cords and line

Quilt cords and line

Three lengths of cordage are packed in the ditty bag. The two yellow lengths are quilt cords for me to attach my Katabatic quilt to the pad on colder or draughtier nights.

Quilt cord used to hand food bag away from rodents in bothy on South West Coast Path

Quilt cord used to hand food bag away from rodents in bothy on South West Coast Path

It is seldom that these have to be used as my quilt is wide enough to tuck around the small of my back etc if there is a lazy breeze working through my Duplex shelter. I usually have a door or two on the shelter open at night to keep down condensation and give me a view outside. The cords are occasionally used around the pad in shoulder seasons and in winter. One of the cords has had to do double duty on a particularly long hike a couple of years back- over two thousand miles I lost so much weight that my non-elasticated town trousers, with no waist draw cord, were so loose that I had to tie them up to prevent them falling down.

I have also used one of the cords as a rough and ready way of measuring a distance on a paper map. Simply flex the cord around the bends and turns and trails of tomorrows path, pinch where you get to between finger and thumb, then measure off against the scale at the base of the map. Old school, but easy and reasonably accurate.

Quick and easy attachment method for thin drying line. Can also be used as an extra guy

Quick and easy attachment method for thin drying line. Can also be used as an extra guy

The 6g of green cord shown is usually used as a washing line, often strung between shelter and whatever is nearest. My hiking shirt is often sweat soaked at the end of a day’s hike. I will also try and wash or at least rinse skiddies and socks each evening.

300lb breaking strain braided line. A lifetimes backpacking supply

A lifetimes backpacking supply of line

The green cord is actually 10 metres of tough and thin braided fishing line with a 300lb breaking strain. Really slippery stuff, I could use a knot but tend to rely on a couple of little plastic ‘thingies’ slid on, to which the line is simply returned and wound around a couple of times. This holds it securely.

Gear drying on final day of The Ridgeway. Town Farm campsite, below Ivinghoe Beacon 2016

Gear drying on final day of The Ridgeway. Town Farm campsite, below Ivinghoe Beacon 2016

On a five mile hike in 2018 Three Points of the Compass lost so much weight that town trousers became too loose to wear and had to be cinched up with a quilt cord to prevent offending sensibilities

On a five month hike in 2018 Three Points of the Compass lost so much weight that town trousers became too loose to wear and had to be cinched up with a quilt cord to avoid offending sensibilities

Peaty brown water may look unpalatable but is fine to drink, particularly after the addition of a couple of chemical sterilisation tablets. Sandwood Bay, Sutherland, NW Scotland

Peaty brown water may look unpalatable but is fine to drink, particularly after the addition of a couple of chemical sterilisation tablets. Sandwood Bay, Sutherland, NW Scotland

I use a Katadyn BeFree water filter on trail. I touched on that in a recent post looking at my hydration set-up. But, accidents and loss of filter can occur, so I also pack along a half-dozen or so chemical water treatment tablets. These are Chlorine Dioxide, each tablet will treat a litre of water.

It is not often that I chemically treat water, preferring to filter. But it is a fool that doesn’t try to look to ensuring that water is safe to drink. Regardless of stomach upsets that may occur, there is growing incidences of viruses in our water supplies and the former reliance of a ‘cast-iron’ stomach wont cut it today.

The orange items are ear plugs. Some hostels and bothies, and close camped pitches too, can get pretty noisy with snorers. I confess to hating using these but they are included for last, desperate, resort. These are kept clean in a small baggie.

Ear plugs can also be helpful in trying to get a good nights kip when the wind is blowing and the tent is rattling and flapping like a good ‘un. Though I tend to just pull a beenie further down over my ears instead.

Infrequently required

Emergency water treatment and ear plugs. Infrequently required but extremely useful on occasion

Another tiny baggie keeps a plethora of little ‘stuff’. My sewing kit comprises two needles; a No. 7 embroidery/crewel needle (that has occasionally been pulled into blister duty) and a large eye No. 18 chenille needle. These are kept in a small plastic tube with end caps, along with a trimmed needle threader and a back-up pen. I say pen, this is one of the tiny 1g pressurised pens that pops into a 58mm Victorinox knife scale.

Small stuff

Small stuff

The remainder of my sewing kit comprises a single medium sized button and around five metres of black Gütermann Extra-strong polyester thread on a 0.4g bobbin. I have overdone the sewing kit in the past but am happy with what I have pared down to. The larger chenille needle will still handle tougher fabrics that will shrug off the No. 7 embroidery needle.

On longer hikes, some damage and wear to clothes and gear will occur. Sewing the crotch of my shorts midway along the Cape Wrath Trail

A sterilised needle passed through a blister and the thread left behind, stops the holes closing up and enables the blister to drain overnight, a bit of tape over the blister the following day enables a hike to continue almost pain free, provided the problem that caused it has been dealt with

The needle and thread can also be used for work on any blisters, though I seldom suffer from these there has still been the combination of events that has led to problems. I think the last time was walking through the surf on sloping beach shingle for more miles that I would have preferred to. Catching it way too late to tape over, the sodden skin had become loose and hot. Increasingly I find I am having to assist fellow hikers as few seem to have any clue how to prevent blisters, deal with them, or carry anything with which to treat them.

I carry a little P-38 tin opener, not often used, but if I have an infrequent opportunity of finding a tin of food that lacks a ring pull, I want to get into it. I have learnt my mistake on this, and for the sake of 4.5g, I’ll continue to pack it along now.

Bobby pin being used to hand a washed Darn Tuff sock at tent door to allow it to dry

Bobby pin being used to hang a washed Darn Tuff sock at tent door to allow it to dry. Another sock hangs from the other door

Two bobby pins are used as simple clothes pegs. They work adequately well. Also tucked in to my ditty bag is a spare o-ring for my BRS-3000T stove. If that were lost or damaged and I have no spare, it is goodbye to hot meals and drinks for the remainder of my walk. My final item carried is a spare type 400 bottle cap (shallow, one thread turn).

Three Points of the Compass carries a small knife or multi-tool on trail. For many years I have favoured the key-chain sized Leatherman Squirt S4 because the selection of tools on this is almost exactly what I want. Usually, the only tools I require are scissors, modest blade, small screwdriver for my glasses, nailfile and a bottle opener on occasion. Just occasionally I have required a screwdriver to fix a stove or trekking poles. The S4 is now discontinued though it has been replaced with others in the Leatherman line up. If I am not carrying this I am invariably carrying one of the terrific little 58mm Victorinox tools.

However I am currently looking at returning to what I used when I first started off backpacking decades ago, taking separate dedicated tools. More on that in a future post.

Leatherman Squirt S4 multi-tool

Leatherman Squirt S4 multi-tool

I carry a little wallet. I am on my third of these as zips do fail and they hole quite often. They have varied in material from X-Pac to 70D Liteskin to my current which is DCF Cuben Fiber. These are all simple zippered pouches containing travel/bus/train tickets (and Gold discount card if necessary), house key (and British Waterways water key on occasion), cash and a variety of cards- I probably carry more cards than most as I like to visit places on my trails and you never know what you may unexpectedly happen upon. Current cards are YHA membership, English Heritage, Museums Association membership and bank card.

Wallet and contents

Wallet and contents

A squirt of gel super glue kept a trail shoe that was coming apart from progressing further

A squirt of gel super glue kept a trail shoe that was coming apart from progressing further

Another baggie contains repair tape. This varies according to length of trail but is currently a 11cm x 7.5cm rectangle of clear tenacious tape, 10.5cm x 8cm rectangle of clear DCF (Dyneema Composite Fabric) repair tape, 30cm thin strip of camo DCF repair tape, that matches my shelter, and a single square of Thermarest fabric repair patch for my sleeping mat. On occasion I have added some self adhesive hook and loop velcro.

Like many others, I keep a few turns of duct or Gorilla tape around the shafts of my trekking poles. This gets changed out each season.

I also include a tiny 1g tube of super glue gel. I have tried the 0.5g tubes but they do not include enough to effect most repairs and the larger tubes contain too much. I also find the gel easier to control than the runny glue. At a pinch, this could also be used for skin repair in the event of a particularly bad injury.

Repair tape and glue

Repair tape and glue

Disaster averted. When a guy pulled out on my shelter, leaving a large hole in the side, it was only having a large patch of adhesive repair cuben tape that prevetned a series of damp nights following. Offas Dyke Path

Disaster averted. When a guy pulled out on my shelter, leaving a large hole in the side, it was only having a large patch of adhesive repair DCF tape that prevented a series of damp nights following. Offas Dyke Path

The small journal that Three Points of the Compass carries will vary according the to the length of trail, but is always pretty small

The small journal that Three Points of the Compass carries will vary according to the length of trail, but is always pretty small

Three Points of the Compass seems to be amongst a declining number of hikers who still likes to keep a written journal. Most people simply record their memories on their phone, if at all. Size of journal varies according to how long a trail is, but it is usually a modest sized journal that will be filed away on my shelf back home, dedicated to that trail and those memories. It takes dedication to fill out a days record each evening, and I have skipped days when simply too tired or finishing late. I will also have a hostel or museum stamp a page, ask people to write their contact details on occasion, record train and bus times. Phone numbers for hostels, draw small town maps on exactly how to find a place. Record insects, birds and animals seen, tuck in receipts, feathers. I have even glued in volcanic dust from the trail. On occasion, I will sketch a church, a sea stack or the view before me. To accompany the journal, I have a simple pen.

Fire kit in baggie

Fire kit in baggie

In the shoulder months and winter I also include a small emergency fire kit. This contains just a small selection of items that may get me out of a sticky situation. I used to also carry this in summer months when carrying an alcohol/meths set-up as I would then also have the ability to set up for wood burning for cooking. However the past couple of years have seen some extraordinarily dry periods with bans on both open and meths cooking in favour of a cooking set-up that allows for it to be instantly extinguished, which means gas. So I find that I am now using a gas set-up for the majority of my backpacking excursions these days.

The simple and minimal contents of my fire kit include tinder and matches

The simple and minimal contents of my fire kit include three Tinder-Quik fire starters, a little tinder, Lifeboat or stormproof matches, with sealed match strike card, and a minute ferrocerium rod

These are the contents of the ditty bag being carried by Three Points of the Compass in 2020, not that any of us are getting out much in this coronavirus year. I used to include a spare pair of glasses in this but I now pack them deep within my clothes bag for added protection.

The ditty bag will no doubt continue to evolve in the future, though I suspect little will change much. My next post looking at the smaller pouches and bags carried on my backpacking trips will peek inside my hygiene pouch/wash kit.

A notebook forms an important part of the contents of my ditty bag. A scrappy sketch of High Cup Nick on the Pennine Way in 2018 takes me back to the moment I made it, above, the carefully scrawled name of the little girl who spent that night in Gregs Hut with her father and me, reminds of Lexi's overwhelming excitement at toasting marshmallows that night

A notebook forms an important part of the contents of my ditty bag. A scrappy sketch of High Cup Nick on the Pennine Way in 2018 takes me back to the moment I drew it. Above, the carefully scrawled name of the little girl who spent that night in Gregs Hut bothy with her father and me, reminds me of Lexi’s overwhelming excitement at toasting marshmallows that night with ‘daddy’

Tenerife: Nov - Dec 2018 Gofio on the supermarket shelves

Trail food: Gofio

Visit many restaurants on the Canary Islands and you will find a small dish or bowl of pale finely ground flour in the centre. This is gofio, roasted and milled, made from wheat or varieties of maize. Just occasionally it is made from other plants such as barley or even beans. Gofio is a good quality carbohydrate, and quite high in protein and fibre. It is low in fat and sugar and high in minerals.

Gofio can be purchased in handy 25g individual servings, perfect for a breakfast dish

Gofio can be purchased in handy 25g individual servings, perfect for a breakfast dish

The word Gofio was used by the original inhabitants of Gran Canaria for roasted and ground barley and the original natives of Tenerife, the Guanches, called this ahoren, where it became a staple food. Eventually gofio became standard across the archipelago for a flour made with any cereal or legume. That found on Tenerife is most usually derived from wheat with a little added salt. Fuerteventura favours ground chickpeas. All of them are a great source of carbohydrate.

Gofio in centre of restaurant table. Bodega Monje, Tenerife

Gofio in centre of restaurant table. Bodega Monje, Tenerife. A spoonful can be added to many meals, particularly to thicken more liquid dishes

Gofio is wholemeal, all parts of the cereal are utilised. Roasting prior to milling is common to all gofio, which has the benefit of killing mould and parasites, increasing shelf life and purportedly improving flavour. This process also has the welcome effect of making the flour easily digestible, suiting those with delicate digestive systems, the elderly, children and fortuitously, hikers!

So, if looking for suitable hiking foods while traversing the Canary Islands, perhaps on the GR131 long distance trail, keep gofio in mind. It has satiating powers meaning that hunger does not appear for some time due to its slow absorption, so is also suited for diabetics. It is not an unpleasant taste but Three Points of the Compass finds its distinctive smell the most noticeable characteristic.

Most supermarkets on the larger Canary Islands will have shelves groaning beneath a wide range of Gofio. Tenerife, 2018

Most supermarkets on the larger Canary Islands will have shelves groaning beneath a wide range of Gofio. Some will be milled from pure maize or wheat, others will be mixes of ground ingredients that could include barley, rye chickpeas or even beans. Photographed Tenerife, 2018

A simple breakfast- gofio with milk and honey

Breakfast of gofio with milk and honey

Gofio is not a dish in itself, it is more usually an ingredient to be added to other dishes. Gofio can be sprinkled on a breakfast cereal or simply mixed with milk. Tins or tubes of condensed milk make a handy and tasty addition too.

Gofio can be added to fish and meat stews to thicken these. Adding thick fish stock (or occasionally meat stock) to gofio results in the dish Escaldón, found as a starter in some restaurants. Probably the best approximation of this that could be achieved on trail would be using a fish stock cube or fish stock pot, which would likely see a native canarian throw their arms up in horror. Three Points of the Compass does like to finish a days hiking with an Oxo cube in boiled water prior to an evening meal, not a particularly healthy option unless carrying out strenuous activity as these beef stock cubes are pretty high in sodium. But on trail I find this both refreshing and rehydrating while replacing some lost salts, it was time to see what resulted from adding gofio to the mix…

25g of Gofio will mix to a smooth paste with a little cold water easily. Topped up with boiling water and with an added Oxo, this makes a satisfying light liquid drink on trail during a days hike or to add lost salts at the end of the day

25g of Gofio will mix to a smooth paste with a little cold water easily. Topped up with boiling water and with an added Oxo, this makes a satisfying light liquid drink on trail during a days hike or to add lost salts at the end of the day

Condensed milk, in various containers, is usually found on supermarket shelves beside packs of gofio. Gran Canaria

Condensed milk, in various containers, is usually found on supermarket shelves beside packs of gofio. Gran Canaria

Gofio is, or was, almost a staple for many Canary Island children- a bowl of gofio mixed with milk being consumed before school. Many older inhabitants will share fond memories of growing up with it and it remains a favourite. It would make a good alternative to porridge/oatmeal if backpacking in the Canaries. Or seek out Gofio de Avena which is made from milled roasted oats so not far removed from porridge itself. Milk powder or a tube of condensed milk could easily be packed along, and the dish supplemented with nuts or dried fruits.

Simple breakfast dish of gofio, milk and figs

Simple breakfast dish of gofio, milk and figs

Gofio on in Gran Canaria supermarket, stacked beside sugars and condensed milk

Gofio in Gran Canaria supermarket, stacked beside sugars and condensed milk. The two are a popular mixture in nearby western Sahara due to the Spanish influence there.

Gofio de Millo (roasted maize/corn) provides around 387Kcal, 8.6g protein and 73g carbohydrate per 100g. Gofio de Trigo (roasted wheat) provides some 371Kcal, 10.8g protein and 81.6g carbohydrate per 100g. Gofio de Avena (roasted oats) provides 400kcal, 13.1g protein and 70.6g carbohydrate per 100g.

Gofio de Millo is made from ground and roasted corn (actually maize) while Gofio de Trigo is roasted wheat

Gofio de Millo is made from ground and roasted corn (actually maize) while Gofio de Trigo is roasted wheat

Gofio can be easily found in almost all Canary Island supermarkets in bags of various sizes. The 25g individual serving size are convenient as a single breakfast. Condensed milk is usually found on adjacent shelves. While a little difficult to find away from the Canaries, should you come across gofio, do try it.

An easily found foodstuff if hiking on the Canary Islands. Gofio, in its many guises and sizes, can easily be packed along with milk powder or a tube of condensed milk

An easily found foodstuff if hiking on the Canary Islands. Gofio, in its many guises and sizes, can easily be packed along with milk powder or a tube of condensed milk

Lightweight tin opener options for backpacking

Gear talk: carrying a tin opener on trail

While it is doubtful that many backpackers would dream of packing such an item, Three Points of the Compass advocates carrying a tin opener while on trail, especially on a multi-day hike. Most of us will either pack along dehydrated pre-prepared meals to eat, or rustle up a meal with some easy prepared foodstuffs- couscous, powdered potato, noodles, my particular favourite on trail is preparing a lentil curry. However, especially in the UK, there is often the opportunity to supplement this type of dried and lightweight food with heavier tinned food. Particularly if staying the night on an official pitch, with either on-site or local shop selling simple goods, if usually at an extortionate price.

Not every tin of food comes with a ring pull. Without a tiny lightweight opener, gaining access is difficult

A welcome tin of protein purchased in a Youth Hostel while on trail. Not every tin of food comes with a ring pull. Without a tiny lightweight opener, gaining access is going to be difficult away from the hostel’s ‘campers kitchen’. This opener weighs just 4.1g

Not all tins come with ring pull tops and few of us are packing any sort of large multi-tool that includes a tin, or can, opener. Rather than attempt to bash a way into a tin with a tent peg, or slice open a finger attempting to gain access via a small folding penknife or simply do without the contents, why not simply pack along a tiny lightweight opener. There really isn’t much else that will perform the task they do and for a handful of grams weight penalty, such ‘food-joy’ could be appreciated…

The contents of my 'ditty bag' photographed on a longer multi week hike in 2018. The contents of one small baggie here are further shown below

The contents of my ‘ditty bag’ photographed on a longer multi week hike in Scotland. The contents of the small baggie bottom right are shown below

When it comes to lightweight openers, the military have our backs. And it is to the various tin/can openers that have been produced by the armies of the world that the backpacker should turn. I seem to have an assortment of these around the house and have pulled together what I could find for the header photo above. One I won’t be covering is the large Czechoslovakian Army issue ‘Perfex’ opener shown above. While well made and effective, there are simply too many alternatives to this folding 26g tin and bottle opener.

Some of the contents of my backpacking ditty bag- Money, sewing kit, house key and British Waterways water key, emergency fire starter kit, spare water bottle cap, hair grips, to be used as clothes pegs, and a small tin opener

Some of the contents of my backpacking ditty bag- Money, sewing kit, house key and British Waterways water key, emergency fire starter kit, spare water bottle cap, two hair grips (used as clothes pegs), and a small tin opener. This is the 4.5g P-38

One of the largest viable options that a backpacker could consider is the Field Ration Eating Device, or FRED. This pressed steel device was introduced during the Second World War and issued to the Australian military. It has the Defence Stock Number: 7330-66-010-0933. Still manufactured today, mine was made in 2007. Various clone rip-offs have been made in recent years. As well as the effective tin opener, one end of the tool has a bottle opener and the other end has a shallow spoon. The 90mm length makes the tool easy to use and twist in the hand. While you can eat with this, its short spoon length means that you put yourself at risk of cutting yourself on the edge of a freshly opened tin, while the shallow bowl is useless for more liquid foodstuffs. It has not endeared itself to everyone forced to use it and earned the unfortunate sobriquet- ‘Fucking Ridiculous Eating Device’. For backpacking, there are better options.

Australian issue FRED

Australian issue FRED weighs 11.6g but also incorporates a simple spoon

There are quite a few small, but actually medium sized opener options. These include the well known P-51, centre in the image below. Supposedly given this designation due to its 51mm length, mine is actually a 53mm long British Army equivalent. Every 24 hour ration pack I had while serving in the Army had one of these included, it came in a paper sleeve wrapper with printed instructions on how to use it. I had dozens of these ‘Baby Can Openers’ but they have all gradually gone and this 1981 example is my sole survivor. Stamped with- ‘1981 – W.P.W ‘crows foot arrow’ 129 – 9982′, it has opened hundreds of tins and is still in perfect operating order. There are many clones (BCB- second left) and alternatives both used by other armed forces and subsequently manufactured for the civilian market. The Highlander Survival opener shown here, combined with a bottle opener, is widely available however I don’t like it. It doesn’t operate particularly well, ripping open a tin rather than piercing and cutting easily. Also the bottle opener section makes it uncomfortable in the hand while opening tins. The opener on the right in my hand was issued to the Swedish Army and these work well. However the larger military opener on the left is a horrible tool with a very blunt and barely usable cutter, it is only the slightly longer length that enables sufficient force to be applied.

Medium sized openers

Medium sized openers. Weights left to right: 13.0g 7.7g, 7.7g, 8.6g, 7.0g

The small holes punched in many of these openers enable them to be hung from a keyring however the cutting tip can swing open and rip holes in pockets. An easy solution to this is to use a small rare earth magnet to keep it closed when not in use.

Rare earth magnet on my army issue opener

Rare earth magnet on my army issue opener keeps it closed when not in use

Most backpackers constantly strive to remove excess weight from their packs. Even the lightest option shown above, the Swedish 7g opener may cause some to baulk. Despite this, Three Points of the Compass suggests that one of the lighter and smaller tin openers should still be seriously considered. Ranging from around 4 to 7 grams there are truly lightweight options.

Smallest and lightest of the opener options

Smallest and lightest of the opener options. Weights from left to right: 6.6g. 4.2g, 7.2g, 4.5g

These are tiny, the smallest here is only 38mm long though the shorter length does mean that it is uncomfortable to use for any extended period. However none of us are using one of these for an extended period on trail. All we want to do is open the odd tin on occasion. The rounded ‘Weekend’ 6.6g opener shown on the left in my hand is probably the best of the small military issue openers. However they are not the easiest to find. After these, the famous P-38, on the right in my hand, is a superb choice and weighs under five grams, this is stamped ‘US Shelby Co.’ indicating that it was made by Mallin Shelby Hardware inc. These openers were developed in 1942 and are still made today. Smaller than the P-51 shown above, these are not quite so comfortable to use but are just as simple to operate. The P-38 has a wide and loyal following. For a good deal more information on these, there are a number of sources online, one of the more informative can be found here.

The 84mm Victorinox Alox Cadet weighs 45.9g and includes a really efficient tin opener

The 84mm Victorinox Alox Cadet includes a really efficient tin opener but weighing 45.9g it is not the lightest of options

Some pocket knives come with a tin opener amongst their toolset. Three Points of the Compass has looked before at two of the military knives that include an opener, these were the British and German options. For myself however, if not carrying one of the small keychain sized multi-tools from Leatherman, Three Points of the Compass prefers one of the smaller 58mm long knives produced by Victorinox for backpacking trips. Sadly, none of the 58mm Swiss Army Knife options includes a tin opener amongst their tools. Some of the larger knives that Victorinox has produced do include fantastically efficient openers but for most hikers, they are probably either too heavy, or equipped with tools not required on trail. The 28.8g Alox Bantam and 45.9g Alox Cadet from Victorinox both have excellent tin openers, however the first has a combination opener on a single layer knife that lacks scissors, which some may regard a necessity on a Swiss Army Knife, while the second is a better equipped two layer knife, with an even better dedicated tin opener, yet also lacks scissors. Interestingly, these two types of opener work in opposite directions.

Victorinox's instructions on how to use its combination tool, as found on its 84mm Alox Bantam

Victorinox’s instructions on how to use its combination tool, as found on its 84mm Alox Bantam

While all of these openers are easiest to use by right-handers, left-handers can also use them- holding them in the left hand and working round a tin in the opposite direction. So, to carry a tin opener or not? That is your choice. I do. If you do decide to pack along a small opener I suggest don’t bother with any of the civilian clones. Instead choose one made for the military, they number in the millions and were specifically produced to be both durable and efficient. Most of those shown above can be found, with a bit of searching, on the second hand market so simply buy the real thing.

6.6g Weekend opener in use

6.6g Weekend opener in use

The extremely thin 58mm Victorinox Pocket Pal

Knife chat: Victorinox Pocket Pal- is this the best thin 58mm ever?

There is, quite literally, not a lot to this knife. Measuring just 4.18mm thick, it is one of the most minimalist knives that a hiker could take on trail that still provides any degree of functionality beyond a simple blade.

The simple and extremely thin Victorinox Pocket Pal

The simple and extremely thin Victorinox Pocket Pal

The 58mm long Pocket Pal is an older Victorinox model that first appeared in the 1960s. Though now discontinued, it can still be found on the second hand market. The knife is minimal in design having a single layer with one tool on each side unfolding in opposite directions. The Aluminum Oxide, or Alox, scales are smooth which means that this knife is even thinner than other alox scaled 58mm knives from Victorinox. My example has no keyring though some Pocket Pals did feature one. Nor is the Victorinox shield present on the scales, that were supplied smooth as they were intended to carry advertising. My example carries the initials of a Swiss communications trade union.

Pocket Pal has a small blade, as to be expected in such a tiny tool

Pocket Pal has a small blade, as to be expected in such a tiny tool. The blade carries the Victorinox tang stamp

The non-locking spear point stainless steel blade is 40mm long with a 33mm cutting edge. Blade thickness is 1.15mm across the spine. There is no getting away from the fact that the blade is very small but is usually all that is required if backpacking. If it is simply a letter opener that you want hanging from your key chain, then they don’t get more suited than this. The nail file is equally simple, it has a 5mm x 30mm textured file surface that works on smoothing rough nails just fine. This knife comes with a cleaner tip to the file, there is no screwdriver, or SD, tip variant.

Thickness of single layer Pocket Pal compared with 2019 two-layer Classic Alox

Thickness of single layer Pocket Pal compared with 2019 two-layer Classic Alox

There are two similarly appointed knives that have been produced by Victorinox, these are the Princess and the Escort. Three Points of the Compass looked at both of these knives here. Both of those knives have cellidor scales which meant that both tweezers and toothpick could be included. For those that don’t often use or want those tools, and Three Points of the Compass is amongst them, their exclusion is perfectly acceptable. This thin knife will slip into a wallet or more usefully, a First Aid Kit, with ease. If you are looking for the simplest and especially thinnest of practical little knives, then the 58mm Pocket Pal may fit the bill.

Victorinox Pocket Pal with the similarly equipped Victorinox Princess

Victorinox Pocket Pal (below) with the similarly equipped Victorinox Princess (above)

Pocket Pal specifications:

  • Weight: 11.2g
  • Length: 58mm, width: 17.20mm, thickness: 4.18mm (4.60mm across the rivets)
  • Blade
  • Nail file with cleaner tip

Note that Victorinox also produces another knife subsequently called the Pocket Pal, however that is 84mm long and features two blades.

Smooth Alox scales on Pocket Pal compared with the more common textured alox scales, as shown here on a 2019 Alox Classic

Smooth alox scales on Pocket Pal compared with the more common textured alox scales shown here on a 2019 ‘Champagne’ Alox Classic

Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here.

Victorinox 74mm Executive

Knife chat: The Victorinox Executive

Victorinox has offered a huge range of knives and multi-tools over the decades. Traditionally these are roughly classified by their folded length. These are: 58mm, 74mm, 84mm, 91mm, 93mm, 100mm, 108mm and 111mm. While the 58mm range is large, offering a wide range of options, few 74mm models have been released. One oddity amongst these offers a unique set of tools that deserves serious consideration- the 74mm Victorinox Executive.

Three Points of the Compass has a penchant for the smallest of the Victorinox Swiss Army Knives. Most of the 58mm knives are based around the most useful trinity of tools, especially for backpacking and the like- these are: blade, scissors and nail file, ideally the latter having a screwdriver tip. However some find these tools a little small for their liking, if so, the small 74mm range provides just a little step up in size of tools, functionality and are just a tad more robust. The 34g 74mm Ambassador is akin to a Victorinox Classic on steroids, however the 45g Executive offers a few more tool options for just a little extra weight penalty.

Large blade on the Victorinox 74mm Executive

Large blade on the Victorinox 74mm Executive

The Victorinox is a two layer tool that builds very slightly on the more basic single layer Ambassador. Including scale tools and keyring the standard cellidor scaled Executive has seven tools but still manages to somehow offer redundancy even with these. Despite only being one millimetre thicker than the Ambassador, that extra thickness is surprisingly noticeable and it feels substantially bulkier than its slimmer 74mm cousin.

Two useful knives from the small 74mm Victorinox range. Ambassador on left with white scales and Executive on right with red cellidor scales

Two useful knives from the small 74mm Victorinox range. Ambassador on left with white scales and model 0.6603 Executive on right with red cellidor scales

Main blades on Victorinox Classic and Executive compared

Main blades on Victorinox 58mm Classic and 74mm Executive compared

The primary tool of most knives is the blade, however for many people, the scissors gets most use. Both large blade and scissors on the Executive are to the usual quietly efficient and effective standard. The non-locking, drop point blade offers a 46mm cutting edge, sharp out of the box. The blade will hold an edge pretty well but is never going to rival a good carbon steel blade, not will it rust like one either. The main blade on the Executive is just a little beefier than those found on the backpackers knife of choice- the Classic. At it’s thickest point on the spine, the stainless steel on the Executive’s main blade is 1.63mm thick while the Classic’s blade utilises steel 1.18mm thick.

Despite being quite a small knife, the Executive comes equipped with no less than three blades. In addition to the larger blade there is a small one. This has a cutting edge of just 30mm. Having two blades gives some redundancy. There is back up if the larger blade becomes damaged or blunt, or each can be kept dedicated for specific tasks, perhaps food preparation. The third knife blade is a real oddity. This is the unique ‘orange peeler’ blade that Victorinox included only on variations of the 74mm Executive.

Unique orange peeler blade found on Victorinox Executive

Unique orange peeler blade found on Victorinox Executive

The orange peeler blade on the Executive is so unusual that Victorino inlcudes a diagram on how to use it on the instruction leaflet that accompanies the tool when purchased

The orange peeler blade is so unusual that Victorinox includes a diagram on how to use it when the tool is purchased

There are slight variations to be found with the orange peeler blade- with or without serrations, shallow or deep serrations, but the currently available and standard blade is as seen here- with deep and wide serrations. This blade also has a 3.5mm flat screwdriver tip but it will not handle a great deal of torque without twisting. I find this far too large for the small screws on my glasses.

As an orange peeler tool, it is great, however do we really need such an implement with us on a daily basis? Probably not. It does however also work great for opening taped packages or clam-shell goods which is something I do far more frequently than peeling oranges.

Be warned, the little blade on this orange peeler is damned sharp and there is some risk of cuts while using it as a screwdriver. Some owners hone down the edge on this little blade to make a short little serrated knife blade. All three of the blades- large, small and orange peeler, are situated on the same side of the knife. The large and small blades have an off centre tapered profile that enables them to nest side by side in one layer, the orange peeler blade making up the second layer of the tool.

74mm Ambasador and Executive knives compared. All tools on one side open. Executive has three blades: large, small and unique orange peeler blade

74mm Ambassador and Executive knives compared. All tools on one side open. Executive has three blades: large, small and unique orange peeler blade

On the other side of the knife are the remainder of the main tools- the scissors on the 74mm range are around fifty per cent larger than those on the 58mm range and are more robust and will cut with greater ease than those found on the Classic. They are still small though, but of the largest size that will fit within the scales. The scissors will cut finger nails, paper, thread, 550 para cord (eventually) but struggles with cordura and anything such as leather will defeat the small scissor blades.

Scissors on 74mm Victorinox Ambassador and Executive knives compared. The thicker Executive has an additional tool nested with the scissors

Scissors on 74mm Victorinox Ambassador and Executive knives are identical. The thicker Executive has an additional tool in the second layer nested alongside the scissors

Cross, and single cut replacement, nail files on Executive compared

Cross, and single cut replacement, nail files on Executive compared

The Victorinox 74mm Ambassador has a small nail file, even smaller than that found on the 58mm Classic. The nail file on the 74mm Executive however is the real deal with the actual filing surface measuring some 39mm in length. The actual design of file surface has changed over the years moving from cross-cut to a textured surface to a single-cut surface. While the cross-cut surface, found on the earliest models is effective, Three Points of the Compass preferred the textured surface which is robust and works well with nails.

Victorinox have more recently swapped this out for a 39mm long single-cut file surface that is presumably cheaper to manufacture. It does work, and can also act as a light file on other materials. The tip can be used as both a nail cleaner and with small Phillips head screws. In all of its file surface guises, this is possibly the best nail file found on any of the Victorinox knives.

45mm long toothpick and tweezers are found in the Executive scales

45mm long toothpick and tweezers are found in the Executive scales

The cellidor scales holds the usual Victorinox implements, a toothpick and small pair of tweezers. Regular readers will be aware that Three Points of the Compass is not a fan of the toothpick- who knows what bacteria is being harboured in the scale slot. It would be more useful having one of Victorinox’s pens or small LED lights situated in the scale instead. Tweezers are small but OK for picking out slivers, thorns and the like. Finally, this knife comes with a split ring keyring. There was an earlier version of this knife that did not have this fitted, called the Companion. That knife is extremely uncommon and difficult to find these days whilst at the time of writing the Victorinox Executive remains on sale.

Victorinox Executive specifications (cellidor scales):

  • Tang stamp on Alox Executive

    Tang stamp on Alox Executive

    Length: 74mm, width: 21.5mm, thickness: 10.5mm

  • Weight: 45g
  • Large blade
  • Small blade
  • Orange peeler blade, with flat screwdriver tip
  • Scissors
  • Nail File, with nail cleaner/small Philips screwdriver tip
  • Tweezers
  • Toothpick
  • Keyring

There is a variety of the Executive that omits the scale tools. This is the Alox (Aluminium Oxide) Executive. This smooth scaled option made by Victorinox was frequently used by companies for advertising purposes and as a result of these freebie give-aways, the Alox Executive does occasionally turn up on the second hand market, often in very good condition. The smooth scales provided two advantages to the knife- long lasting advertising is made possible on the anodised scales and the lack of raised ribs or checker-board sides, as found on later and current Alox models, gives an extraordinarily slim profile. As a result, this version is even thinner and lighter than the cellidor scaled Executives, just 7.1mm thick and weighing 35.8g.

Small and large blades opened on the thinner Alox version of the Victorinox Executive

Small and large blades opened on the thinner Alox version of the Victorinox Executive. No key ring is fitted to this model promoting a Swiss manufacturer of gears. The text is actually the base metal of the scale.

In conclusion:

For some, the 74mm Victorinox Executive may prove to have the best combination of tools at just the right length and weight. I am not convinced that the set of tools on this knife is right for backpacking though the extra blade and slightly larger scissors could be handy. When backpacking Three Points of the Compass does often appreciate the capability of the combination tool included on some 58mm Vics. At the very least, a cap lifter/bottle opener or can opener would be useful on the Executive, sadly, it is not to be. Nor is there any other option in the small 74mm range that offers this. However as an urban EDC and for the commuter bound for office work, the Executive would probably be a great key ring or pocket carry. If it is simply a slightly larger blade and/or scissors that is required, the more basic and slightly less bulky 74mm Ambassador is the better choice for backpacking I feel.

Victorinox Executive with main tools opened

Victorinox Executive with main tools opened

Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here.

What power bank, charge leads and plug I take with me depends on the number of days I am on trail

Gear talk: Smaller power banks, plugs and leads on trail

Nitecore F1 and F2 battery charger/power banks

Nitecore F1 and F2 battery charger/power banks

Small power banks/chargers

Like most hikers, Three Points of the Compass takes a number of electric devices when backpacking- phone, camera, LED light, occasionally an MP3 player. Other hikers may be carrying even more devices. Only three years ago I made the total switch to rechargeable headlamps, first to the Black Diamond ReVolt, that can run on either standard AAA or rechargeable AAA batteries that can be charged in the headlamp. Then I switched out to either the Olight H1R Nova, with proprietary rechargeable RCR123A battery, or the Nitecore NU25. The former is for longer winter hikes or where more night hiking is planned, while the NU25 is perfectly adequate for the remainder of the year.

The H1R Nova has a single rechargeable 3.7V 650mAh RCR123A battery. This has built in protection. A spare could be taken so as to swap out with ease. However I just take the one. Each battery weighs 18g

The H1R Nova has a single rechargeable 3.7V 650mAh RCR123A battery. This has built in protection. A spare can also be taken so as to swap out with ease. However I usually just take the one as the battery can be charged while in use. Each battery weighs 18g. Note the excellent build quality of this light and fitted rubber O ring to prevent water ingress

For shorter hikes where I am also carrying a power bank, I may carry either a Nitecore F1 battery charger or the double sized version- the F2. These will take many Lithium-Ion batteries including the 18650 batteries I favour. The F1 is a simple, minimalist charger with Micro USB in-port and USB out-port. It has a nifty little LED array that identifies the voltage of the battery inserted and informs degree of charge and the F1 allows through charging, so it is possible to charge the battery at the same time as charging a device.

Powerbank, charge lead and plug for short walks of a couple or more days.

Nitecore F1 power bank, charge lead and plug for short walks of a couple days

The Nitecore F1 charger weighs 34g including two ranger bands which hold a battery securely in place when in use though I often only take the one. The F1 is not the swiftest of chargers and is not suitable for a brief halt in town of an hour or two and expecting to quickly charge up, but is fine for an overnight stop where there is access to mains power for a few hours. There are a lot of these little battery chargers and power banks available and a little care needs to be taken when choosing one, do your research because a few are downright dangerous. The F1 is a great lightweight option for a day or few, however I feel that the F2 is more suited to longer treks as it gives a greater degree of flexibility and functionality.

Nitecore F2, with plug and charge lead

Nitecore F2, with plug and charge lead

The Nitecore F2 has 0.5A USB 3.0 Micro-B input and two USB outputs, giving 1x 2A or 2x1A. The F2 charger/power bank weighs 47g, 54g with two ranger bands. The little 170mm charge lead that comes with it weighs 12g but I normally carry a more robust longer lead.

Powerbank, charge leads and plug for walks of a week or more

F2 power bank, charge leads, plug and extra battery are sufficient for trails of a week or more, unless opportunity for charging presents additional problems, in which case extra cells could be carried

Depending on the length of trip, I often carry one, two or three Nitecore Lithium-Ion rechargeable 18650 batteries. 3.7V 12.6Wh. The 18650 batteries from Nitecore (and Olight that I have also used) are both built on the Panasonic NCR 18650B, with additional circuitry. The ones from Nitecore each weigh 48g and have built in PCB/IC protection (short circuit and battery overcharge protection and discharge protection circuits) so are a little longer than most other 18650 batteries being 68mm long instead of 65mm. Mine are the 3400mAh batteries which give the best size/weight/power ratio for rechargeable batteries. Though in truth they probably deliver no more than around 3200mAh. When not in use, or in the charger, I keep each 18650 battery in a 6.4g silicone sleeve. This removes the danger of any shorting out while packed. If you have any doubt as to the efficacy of 18650 batteries, it is worth noting that Tesla has been using Panasonic 18650 cells in their Models S and X cars since 2013. Their most common battery pack originally contained 7104 18650 cells, more recently 8256 cells.

Phone, mp3 player, headlight and power- Little was required

Electronics carried on the Icknield Way in 2017, there is an excess of charge leads here as three different electronic devices had three different connectors

 

Another good charger that can also act as a power bank and has attracted a lot of interest in recent years is the Miller ML-102. There have been a number of versions of this USB charger produced and some earlier models introduced a few faults, however at the time of writing (January 2020) the current version- the 32g ML-102 v9, seems to have reintroduced a reliable charger to the market place. However these will only work with unprotected 65mm long 18650 cells, it won’t accept the longer protected 18650 cells, so I cannot use this on trail with my favoured Nitecore batteries. Unprotected cells should not be left unattended when charging for obvious reasons.

Using the Nitecore F1 as an 18650 battery charger

Using the Nitecore F1 as an 18650 battery charger

Tiny Photon Freedom microlight is frequently attached to one of my packs zip pulls

Tiny Photon Freedom microlight is frequently attached to one of my packs zip pulls or my Z Packs chest pouch

In the eventuality that the battery/power bank does give up and all my 18650s are drained, I usually have just a little backup for light. I often carry two of the fantastic little LRI Photon Freedom Micro button lights. One has a red beam to preserve night vision, or to be just a little more discreet and less conspicuous if wild camping where I ought not. The other has a white beam. I have written elsewhere about these great little lights, but for just 10g each, including battery, you can’t go wrong with these. Spare button batteries are carried for any Photon carried (CR 2016 or 2032 depending on if white or red LED). I also have a light on my phone but better to keep a phone battery charged for emergency use. Finally, I have a minuscule USB LED light with dimmable facility that can be plugged into either my power bank or a room wall plug.

For any hike of a week or more I am usually carrying an Anker PowerCore II Slim 10 000mAh power bank. This weighs 209g, so is the heavier option but I swap out for this for one reason- convenience. With a charger that can only charge one (F1) or two (F2) 18650 batteries at a time, I would need to keep swapping batteries to keep them all charged. Not what I want to be doing. I want to be eating, drinking, washing and resting, not hovering over a charger. With the Anker, I can stop overnight somewhere, plug it in and leave it plugged in until fully charged.

Charge leads and plugs

Leads

Charge rate can be severely affected by the cable used. Both internal cable structure and length will alter the charge rate. Also, the quality of the end pins/plugs is of concern, the last thing you want is the end pulling off while on a hike. To ensure I don’t end up totally scuppered, I carry at least two USB/Micro USB charge leads with me. My main charge lead is usually a 900mm 28.4g USB / Micro USB Anker Powerline. This is a good quality charge lead made with Aramid fibre and double braided line. It will take a lot of the wear that charge leads are subject to.

If I have my iPod Nano mp3 player with me (I have no other Apple products), then I include a tiny little Micro USB/Lightning adaptor. It is only 20mm long and weighs 1.2g. However, it is much more likely I will be carrying my little SanDisc player. This has a built in rechargeable battery, the USB/Micro USB cables I am already packing will work with this.

Small adaptors mean that the number of cables carried can be kept to a minimum. The Micro USB/Lighting adaptor is 1.3g and the Micro USB/USB-C adaptor is 2.6g. Depending on which USB LED light is carried, these can be as little as a gram

Small adaptors mean that the number of cables carried can be kept to a minimum. The Micro USB/Lighting adaptor is 1.3g and the Micro USB/USB-C adaptor 2.6g. Depending on which USB LED light is carried, these can be as little as a gram. Three Points of the Compass carries the larger, touch sensitive LED light shown here that weighs just 3g

Other charge leads carried are a very short, silicone coated lead, just 67mm in length and 5g in weight made by Lifemall. Again, this is USB/Micro USB. It originally had a loop for hanging from a key chain but I removed that. Output is 2.4A maximum. Carrying this little extra charge lead means that I am not left bereft should the longer main lead give up the ghost. The very slight weight penalty is acceptable to me.

A rather nifty feature on the Olight H1R is the simple, magnetic tailcap to which the USB charge cable connects. This means that, if need be, the headlight can be charging while being worn. So if I am carrying the Olight headlamp rather than the Nitecore NU25, I also carry the magnetic Olight charge cable for the HR1 Nova head torch. This weighs 14.5g. The tail glows red when charging and switches to green when fully charged.

In the past, the necessity of carrying one particular charge lead has been a source of annoyance. My Olympus Tough TG-4 camera cannot be charged via normal Micro plug, instead, this requires the inclusion of a proprietary connector. This extra 700mm lead weighs 48.5g. However if I am carrying a camera these days, I am normally taking my Sony RX100v, which can be charged with the standard micro USB.

The 14g Olight charge lead is a handy little addition. It attaches magnetically firmly to the base of the Nova.

The 14g Olight charge lead is a handy little addition however it does mean an extra lead and extra weight to be carried. It attaches magnetically and firmly to the base of the Nova.

Folding Mu plugs

Folding Mu plugs- 14mm thick

Plugs

Three Points of the Compass has a liking for the ingenious folding plugs from Mu (Greek for small or micro). It is not only weight that can be an issue in the pack, but bulk too. The 51.1g Mu Duo has double USB ports with a fixed split of 1.2A per port. Input: AC 100-240v, 50-60Hz. This accompanies me on shorter trips up to a week. For longer trips I have the 50.4g Mu Tablet, this has a single USB port with a DC 5V 2.4A outlet and AC 100-240V, 50-60Hz input. It may seem counter-intuitive to take a single outlet plug for longer trips but it is the higher, faster charge rate that I want then. Though of course, this is nothing compared to the newer connectors coming through as I write this. There is, for example, a Type-C connector Mu plug available.

The higher output single and dual port Mu both measure 73mm x 55mm x 14mm when folded, there is also a lower 1A output Mu that is a little smaller at 60mm x 55mm x 14mm. This is the open white one shown below.

Mu folding plug, plus international version that can have a number of different socket heads fitted

Mu folding plug, plus international version that can have different socket heads fitted

The above leads mean that I can be charging two 18650 batteries in the Nitecore F2, while simultaneously through charging my phone and Olight or camera. If I have the Nitecore F1, I will also have the double port Mu plug, so can charge a single 18650 battery and also the phone, Olight or camera from the second port.

Aulola folding USB adaptor is a cheaper alternative to Mu plugs

Aulola folding USB adaptor is a cheaper alternative to Mu plugs

Mu folding plugs are not cheap and I have used the cheap ‘n’ cheerful TH31 folding dual USB adaptor from Aulola in the past. This has a 5v 2A output, but that is split across the two ports. Slightly larger at 67mm x 49mm x 20mm, these weigh 57g.

I recognise that while I have been slowly bringing all my electronics in line with each other, utilising micro USB charge ports, the wave of change is sweeping by and I shall have to make a further change in the future to keep up as micro USB is eventually going to become obsolete.

The size of power bank carried on a hike, or rather the amount of mAh, is very much a personal choice and should be influenced by a number of circumstance- cost, weight, availability, bulk, number of electronic devices carried, opportunity for recharge, duration between said recharge opportunity etc.

Charging phone on trail with Nitecore F1 battery charger/power bank

Charging phone (literally) on trail with Nitecore F1 battery charger/power bank and mini charge lead

When Three Points of the Compass completed his 2000 mile hike across the UK in 2018, the lightweight Nitecore F1 was carried for the first 800 miles as there was opportunity to recharge every day or two, by the time Scotland was reached, with far less opportunity to charge a power bank, I had switched out to the larger 10 000 mAh Anker which was completely adequate for the remainder of my hike. The longest I went without opportunity for a partial recharge was five days.

Electronics carried on my five month 2018 hike. A larger 10 000 mAh power bank was carried for the final 1000 miles

Electronics carried on my five month 2018 hike. The large 10 000 mAh Anker power bank shown was carried for the final 1000 miles

An assortment of SwissCards

Knife chat: SwissCards

Victorinox SwissCards

Four Victorinox SwissCards- each offers a slightly different range of tools

Four Victorinox SwissCards- each offers a slightly different range of tools. Shown here are the SwissCard (second generation), SwissCard Quattro, SwissCard Lite (second generation) and SwissCard Nailcare

The Victorinox SwissCards are lightweight plastic ‘cards’ that contain a small range of tools. These can frequently be all that is required on a hike. Three Points of the Compass has a few of these and takes a glance at four of the various cards released by Victorinox since they first appeared in 1997. These are the SwissCard (later SwissCard Classic), the SwissCard Quattro, the SwissCard Lite and SwissCard Nailcare.

There have been different generations of these cards, particularly with the original SwissCard. Also, a couple of varieties, including a money clip, and car visor models that excluded the nailfile to fit respective clips instead. An oddity that I shall not cover here was the Doctor SwissCard that exchanged the tweezers for calipers. All of the SwissCards are small, measuring 82mm x 54m x 4mm. So, a little smaller than a credit card. The smaller dimensions are necessary if you want to slide one into a wallet or purse. I would suggest not storing them in the pocket as the plastic (actually ABS or Acrylnitril-Butadien-Styrol) will crack and break if overly stressed by flexing or being sat on. They will slip into just about any packs hipbelt pocket.

Blade length is only 36mm on the little knives, often called letter openers, incorporated in the SwissCards. Though short, this is usually more than sufficient for most tasks on trail. There is a good edge to this blade

Blade length is only 36mm on the little knives, which are often called letter openers, incorporated in the SwissCards. Though short, this is usually more than sufficient for most tasks on trail. There is a sharp blade and it keeps an edge pretty well

Most hikers would probably glance at these little tools and discount them as they don’t immediately strike them as ‘knife’. But the toolset in a SwissCard is very similar to that found on many of the the smaller knives, particularly the Signature, also produced by Victorinox. These tools are mostly of a size that makes them pretty convenient for life on trail.

The original 26g SwissCard, released in 1997, boasted '7 features - 10 functions', but some of these are not worth getting too excited about. It came with Letter opener blade, scissors, stainless steel pin, nailfile with screwdriver, tweezers, toothpick, ballpoint pen and cm/inch ruler

The original 26g SwissCard, released in 1997, boasted ‘7 features – 10 functions’, It came with letter opener blade, scissors, stainless steel pin, nailfile with screwdriver, tweezers, toothpick, ballpoint pen and cm/inch ruler

The first SwissCard appeared on the market in 1997 and while the small range of tools largely remained unchanged, small details in the plastic holder construction were later altered to make it more robust. A rotating sliding lid over the scissors was eventually excluded in 2008 but not before a protractor had been added to the rear of the lid in the second generation of SwissCard.

26.2g SwissCard

Second generation Victorinox SwissCard in translucent blue weighs 26.2g. The first two generations of the SwissCard had a sliding door over the scissors

The sliding door on the first two generations of SwissCard was a design fault. The door easily snapped off from its pivot

Second generation Victorinox SwissCard in solid black featuring an added protractor. The sliding/rotating door was a design fault. The door easily snapped off from its pivot. The protractor on the inside of the door can be seen in this image but was of little practical use

The first two generations of the SwissCard weighed 26.2g, this weight increased imperceptibly to 27g when the sliding door was excluded from the design with the third generation. This meant that the protractor on the second generation was now also removed as a result. While the protractor on the second generation SwissCards could possibly be used for measuring snow slope angle, and the likelihood of avalanche, I really can’t see this being carried out in reality. The third generation of the plastic case is much sturdier and robust as a result of the change.

All SwissCards include a small ruler- 75mm on the front edge, 3 inches on the back

Victorinox SwissCard Classic in transparent blue. All SwissCards include small rulers- 75mm on the front edge, 3 inches on the back

The 27g SwissCard Classic is a simple tool that carries much of the toolset found in the little 58mm Victorinox Classic folding knife. That is- small blade, nailfile, scissors, tweezers and toothpick. The SD version of the Classic knife has a small flat screwdriver tip on its nailfile and this is what is also found in the SwissCard. In addition, there is a stainless steel pin and useful, if miniscule, pressurised ballpoint pen in the SwissCard.

The 58mm Victorinox Classic has a similar set of tools to those found in SwissCards

The 21.3g 58mm Victorinox Classic has a similar set of tools to those found in SwissCards. This is the Edelweiss scaled version, there is a huge variety of scale designs found with these knives

Originally called the SwissCard, the Classic designation was added when new models became available

Victorinox SwissCard Classic in transparent red. Originally called the SwissCard, the Classic designation was added when other models also became available. The Classic also differs from the first two generations of card by not having a sliding door over the scissors

The 22.2g SwissCard Quattro was released in 2000 and this saw the handy little four-way Quattro screwdriver made available for the first time. This is so small and convenient that even if I am not carrying one of the cards with me while hiking, one of the 2.6g screwdrivers is often sitting in my ditty bag. Sadly, the inclusion of the screwdriver was at the expense of the scissors, which are excluded from the SwissCard Quattro. A hole was added to the corner of the card enabling it to be hung from a keyring or lanyard.

Victorinox SwissCard Quattro in solid black. While the addition of the new four-way screwdriver was a welcome addition, the loss of scissors in the SwissCard Quattro means that there is some wasted storage space in the plastic holder of this version that could have been utilised by Victorinox

Victorinox SwissCard Quattro. While the addition of the new four-way screwdriver was a welcome addition, the loss of scissors in the SwissCard Quattro means that there is some wasted storage space in the plastic holder of this version that could have been utilised by Victorinox. this solid black colour is 20.6g compared to the very slightly heavier translucent Quattro cards which are 22.2g

In 2003 a small LED light was incorporated and the 26.7g SwissCard Lite appeared on the market. Essentially, other than differences in case colour, there are two variants of the Lite- early models had a red LED, these were changed to a white LED in 2009. While the white LED is far brighter than the red and ideal for urban use, Three Points of the Compass feels that red is often more useful on trail, especially if stumbling around a crowded hostel or bunkhouse room and trying not to disturb slumbering occupants.

First generation of SwissCard Lite with red LED, card case in translucent red

First generation of SwissCard Lite with red LED, card case in translucent red.

A hiker normally carries a primary white light headtorch or similar, however a small red LED can be useful at times for discreetness. Early models with the red LED can be difficult to find now but are still available through eBay etc. if now over-priced. Though it must be admitted, the red LED is very dim whereas the white variant is far brighter, but still no where near bright enough for night hiking or similar.

Red and white LED variants of the Victorinox SwissCard Lite

White and red LED variants of the Victorinox SwissCard Lite. The brighter white light is distinct

The LED in the SwissCard Lite is powered by a replaceable 0.6g 3v Lithium CR1025 battery

The LED in the SwissCard Lite is powered by a replaceable 0.6g 3v Lithium CR1025 battery

The SwissCard Lite hits the sweet spot by including both scissors and the handy little four-way screwdriver. Incorporating both of these at the expense of losing the nailfile is a reasonable trade off I feel.

The LED switch is a rather clever and simple affair, being a removable slide that contains both LED and the battery. The drain from the modest LED means that battery life is considerable, though a spare battery could be carried on a particularly long multi-day hike.

The SwissCard Lite has a useful set of tools. The 5 x magnifying glass could be useful as an aid when removing small splinters with the pin and tweezers

Victorinox SwissCard Lite in transparent black. This 26.7g card has a useful set of tools. The 5 x magnifying glass is helpful when removing small splinters with the pin and tweezers. Both four-way screwdriver and scissors are present in this card

The flat four-way Quattro screwdriver is such a handy piece of kit that it can easily be slipped into a ditty bag on trail

The flat four-way 2.6g Quattro screwdriver is such a handy piece of kit that it can easily be slipped into a ditty bag on trail

In 2015, the SwissCard Nailcare was released. While both four-way screwdriver and scissors are incorporated, the little knife blade is replaced by a glass nailfile.  As a result, I think the 26.6g Nailcare is the least useful of the SwissCards for taking on trail, unless personal grooming really is that important to you. Unfortunately the cutout for the nailfile is reduced in the nailcare card, otherwise the nailfile could have been swapped for a knife from another card.

The 6.7g scissors from a Victorinox SwissCard are are an excellent efficient choice for a First Aid Kit

The 6.7g scissors found in most variants of the Victorinox SwissCards are a useful choice for a First Aid Kit

SwissCards were manufactured in a range of solid and translucent/transparent colours only some of which are shown here. Ice Blue (shown here) was only available with the Nailcare. The pin and small tweezers are useful for removing splinters and as with the other incarnations, the spring loaded scissors do a good job, though I find my digits a tad large for the small single finger hole so frequently simply grip the whole of the scissor in my hand when using.

While well-appointed, the SwissCard Nailcare is the least useful of the small range for taking on trail

26.6g Victorinox SwissCard Nailcare in translucent Ice Blue. While well-appointed and great for day-to-day urban carry, the SwissCard Nailcare is the least useful of the small range for taking on trail

I normally carry a small knife or multi-tool on trail, however it is probably time that I gave these little cards more attention. They include many of the items that I already carry but could remove from my gear list- scissors, blade, pen, tweezers, and depending on which variant is taken, could provide a couple of other useful items. Three Points of the Compass feels that of all the available SwissCards, a SwissCard Lite is the most suited for backpacking. As to the choice of colour of LED, that is up to you but the earlier red LEDs are becoming pretty difficult to source these days.

One option with a SwissCard is to replace the pin with a needle. This replacement is a Size 7 embroidery/crewel needle

One option with a SwissCard is to replace the pin with a needle. This replacement is a Size 7 embroidery/crewel needle

Three Points of the Compass has looked at quite a few knives and multi-tools that may, or may not, be suitable for backpacking, day treks or Every Day Carry. Links to these can be found here.