Tag Archives: journal

Looking at small light pen options

Gear talk: A few grams here, a few grams there… in search of the perfect pen- again!

 

Three Points of the Compass implores anyone venturing out on to a significant hike over multiple days to document it. If only for your own use. Scribbled notes, how you feel, the people you meet, weather, the sweat on a climb, the shivers on a ridge, the ache in the feet. Anything. Believe me, in the years to come you will read those scribbled notes and many of those recorded moments will come flooding back. That said- you need something to write on and something to write with.

Fisher Stowaway Space pen in the hand

Fisher Stowaway Space pen in the hand

While I still ring the changes on which notebook I take with me on a hike. In 2015 I thought I had found my solution as regards a pen. The Fisher Stowaway was a great, lightweight little solution with a huge ink reservoir. My only issue with it was the cost. It is not outrageously expensive but not a cost I want to be shelling out too frequently. I am not one for losing things on trail, I am pretty careful and methodical. However, when I undertook a five-month hike in 2018 I lost only one item of gear the whole trip. That was my Fisher Stowaway pen, twice. I took a couple of zero days a thousand miles in to my hike, exploring the beautiful city of Chester with just a notebook and pen, the latter came adrift somewhere. I cursed and ordered another to be picked up later in the hike. A hundred miles after receiving that one, I lost it again. I won’t buy another. They are too pricey to keep replacing. This rankles with me and strange as it may seem to those who do not fret over such things, I was determined to find the solution.

Roaming the streets of Chester on a rest day, I walked unencumbered by pack and simply carried a notebook and pen. The latter was lost. The only piece of kit lost on a two thousand mile

Roaming the streets of Chester on a rest day, I walked unencumbered by pack and simply carried a notebook and pen. The latter was lost. The only piece of kit lost on a two thousand mile hike

Over the last couple of months I have been looking again at what lightweight, reliable options there are, pen-wise, for use on trail. I could simply use a nasty little throwaway bic pen, which have broken, smudged or leaked on me too many times, or a pencil. I have many great little mechanical pencils and one of the terrific Koh-i-Noor options would be fine, but it is a pen I am after.

17.3g Victorinox Scribe, with pen extended

17.3g Victorinox Scribe, with pen extended

I wasn’t exhaustive in my investigations by any means. Three Points of the Compass is a big fan of the 58mm series of knives produced by Victorinox over the years and I first considered whether to rely exclusively on one of the Swiss Army Knives that include a pen in their toolset, or even just the pen, removed from the scales, as my main writing implement.

Victorinox Scribe with minuscule pen removed

Victorinox Scribe with minuscule 0.8g pen removed

I frequently carry a 32,5g Midnite Manager from Victorinox on day hikes or of a few days, and they are great for keeping notes then; piggy-backing on the back of other tools I want with me such as blade and scissors. But the ink reservoir is tiny. It will never last the thickness of a moderate notebook. There are a number of 58mm Victorinox knives with pens, mostly in the Signature and Manager series. Probably the lightest of 58mm SAK with a pen is the Victorinox Scribe. Because it eshews scissors, only sporting a small blade, nailfile with screwdriver tip and tweezers (or toothpick) accompanying the retractable pen. This little knife comes in at just 17.3g. It is actually quite comfortable in the hand to write with. By opening the nailfile, it rests in the hand well.

Victorinox Scribe, a very basic toolset that includes a small pen

Victorinox Scribe, a very basic toolset that includes a small pen

Pen from Victorinox SwissCard

Pen from Victorinox SwissCard, this larger option from Victorinox weighs 1.2g

The pens in the 91mm range of knives and SwissCards are longer but still just as thin. There is a larger amount of ink in these but really not a great deal. If using just the Victorinox pen removed from the knife, they are great for just a few scribbled notes but I find them, quite literally, a pain to use for any extended time as their narrow width makes them uncomfortable to hold for longer note taking sessions- the end of a day write-up for example. All of these are pens are pressurised though and write quite well. Which is why I actually include one of the smaller 0.8g spare pens in my ditty bag. If I lose (again) my main pen, or it goes dry on me, I think a less than one gram spare is acceptable if probably superfluous addition. Do note that the Victorinox pens only come with blue ink, always have and it looks like they always will. I prefer black ink and blue is always going to remain a less favoured option for me.

The Victorinox 2019 SwissCard Swiss Spirit comes with a handy set of tools that includes a pen

The 26.8g Victorinox 2019 SwissCard Swiss Spirit comes with a handy set of tools that includes a pen

The True Utility telescopic pen is a lovely robust piece of kit, but the ink reservoir in the pen is tiny

The True Utility telescopic pen is a lovely robust piece of kit, but the ink reservoir in the pen is tiny. One of the replacement refills is shown next to the pen

I then looked at the most minimalist pens I could find. I keep a True Utility telescopic pen on my keyring. Reasonably priced, great for note-taking but surprisingly heavy. Now 8.2g may not sound a great deal but containing such a tiny ink reservoir, I do not think this great keychain pen is suited to backpacking.

True, it does telescope out to a decent length, but the slippery tapering barrel is not particularly comfortable to write with for longer periods. Also that cap in which it is posted, if not attached to anything it is very easy to mislay. I had the same problem with the Inka pens I used to use while backpacking a decade ago. A pen to keep confined to my Every Day Carry I believe.

Even if not suited to backpacking, the True Utility telescopic pen makes a great EDC item, here on my keychain next to a cut down Blackwing 602 pencil

Even if not suited to backpacking, the True Utility telescopic pen makes a great EDC item, here on my keychain next to a cut down Blackwing 602 pencil

The Ohto Minimo is probably the smallest retractable ball point pen on the market

The Ohto Minimo is probably the smallest retractable ball point pen on the market

Ohto Minimo pen

2.7g Ohto Minimo pen

Next up was the cheap-n-cheerful, aptly named, Ohto Minimo ball point pen. This has a 0.5mm line width, is tiny and also comes with a thin little plastic card with pen sleeve that can be slotted into or stuck to just about anything. The clear plastic card is a little larger than most western business cards or credit cards so needs to be trimmed before it will fit a wallet. The work of just a few seconds with a pair of scissors. Refills for the pen are easily available but as the body of this pen is only 3.7mm thick, I again found it too thin to write with for extended periods. It’s weight though is incredible- less than 3g!

I wasn’t getting far in my meagre examination of miniscule pens. Rather than splash out on yet another, I decided to review where I was. I want a lightweight pen, I want black ink, I want reliability, I want affordability and I want it to last a reasonable write length. This all bought me back to my original Fisher Spacepen. Fisher do a pretty good range of pens but it was only the minimalist Stowaway that was ticking all the boxes. How about simply using a refill, by itself? The large ink capacity means that the body is thicker than the tiny little pens I had been looking at. I experimented for a couple of weeks using one to write with every day at work and home but still found the body too slim and a pain to hold for any length of time. Also the smooth body meant it would slip in my grip meaning I had to grasp it more tightly, making it more uncomfortable for extended periods.

Fisher Spacepen refills are easily available, in different ink colours and line thickness

Fisher Spacepen refills are easily available, in different ink colours and line thickness

Fisher Spacepen refill with shrinkwrap sleeve

Fisher Spacepen refill with shrink-wrap sleeve- weight: 3.7g

Some time ago I bought some electricians shrink tubing for wrapping the tops of my shepherds hook tent stakes, the bright red colour increasing visibility in long grass. What if I tried shrinking some of this around the refill body? Five minutes later I had my answer- result! It is easy to do this, cut a length of shrink-wrap, slide over the pen and gently run a hairdryer over it while turning the pen.

The pen is now very slightly wider-  some 6.5mm.  And doesn’t slip in my grip. I originally tried shrinking a length along the whole body, while this worked, I wondered if I could shave off another gram by trimming it to the essential.

Reducing the amount of shrinkwrap on the Fisher refill makes very little difference to the end-weight

Reducing the amount of shrink-wrap on the Fisher refill makes very little difference to the end-weight, this weighs 3.6g

A bare and unencumbered Fisher Spacepen refill weighs 3.4g, shrink-wrapping its length increases this to 3.7g, shortening the shrink-wrapping to a minimum had the negligible effect of reducing it to 3.6g, so barely worth it.

At least for the foreseeable future, that is it for me. For multi-day hikes I have a reliable pen at a decent weight that I can write with for reasonably extended periods though it shall never be as comfortable as a ‘proper’ barrelled pen. In addition, cos I’m a belt’n’braces guy, I have a little Victorinox refill in my ditty bag. For shorter hikes I can favour one of the Victorinox knife options that includes a pen, or if carrying a knife other than a Victorinox (it has been known), take one of the Victorinox pen refills.

It is of course possible to keep a recorded account of a hike on your phone- either as film, audio or in digital note form. However there is genuinely something tactile and pleasant in a dog eared, stained notebook, complete with bits stuffed into the flaps and hurried notes on bus and train times, who it is you have to meet when, resupply lists and phone numbers. I ask, write it down rather than relying on the digital- analogue rules in this format.

A range of lightweight pen options for backpacking

A range of lightweight pen options for backpacking

5ml tube of Perylene Green, PBk 31 from Daniel Smith

Another delivery- Pigment PBk31

OK, so this addition to my gear is going to confound most lightweight hikers. Most of us take along a little luxury on the trail, and strange as it may seem, this is one of mine.

My Perylene Green is from Daniel Smith. This is a single pigment- PBk31, that is actually a black (so also called Perylene Black), but gives the most wonderful moody green hues. Some artists have managed to get fantastic results with simply this colour. Three Points of the Compass is taking a small watercolour kit on my long walk in the hope that I take the occasional time out to indulge in a little sketching.

Perylene Green PBk 31 from Daniel Smith. Paper is 300gm2 cold press

Perylene Green PBk31 from Daniel Smith. Paper is Fabriano watercolour 300gm2 cold press

Not an easily found paint, this pigment is a late addition to my small pallete and is purely there for convenience. A greenish black pigment that will work well for mood, shadows, distant landscapes and foliage. It mixes well with many of the other single pigments I have in my limited pallete producing a range of greens that I cannot be bothered showing in this post. Go and discover this lovely pigment for yourself.

Gear talk: Journals

Now into 2018 and the start date for my Three Points of the Compass walk gets ever nearer. Time to start gathering together some of those items that will have to be renewed during my trek, sent out to me, while on trail. One of these will be my journal. I have just received my latest order of replacements.

Like many hikers, I keep a written record of my wanders. I have written before about choosing a journal most appropriate to personal needs. However I came across the Rhodia rhodiarama after I had written that post.

My choosing the Rhodia rhodiarama is my compromise between written journal and sketchbook, with an emphasis on the former. I am also taking a small art kit with me which I will use to illustrate my trail record. The hard covers of the notebook, though heavier than soft covers, are useful when sketching and provide a deal more protection with extended handling over multiple weeks. There are 192 pages of cream coloured Clairefontaine brushed vellum 90gsm paper. This will take ink, from both biro and fountain, with little if any bleed through or feathering, it will also handle light washes with watercolour, though it is not ideal for that. A compromise is a compromise. I use blank pages but there are also lined versions of the notebook available.

Rhodia rhodiarama notebook in the hand. This makes an excellent journal for longer trips due to it being robust and well made with quite heavyweight pages and hard covers. Far lighter options are available but will have less pages and are more likely to come apart over time

Rhodia rhodiarama notebook in the hand. This makes an excellent journal for longer trips due to it being robust and well made with quite heavyweight pages and hard covers. Far lighter options are available but will have less pages and are more likely to come apart over time

I include a little pen loop from Leuchtturm1917 in which I keep a Fisher Stowaway pen. The elastic loop keeps a good grip on the smooth, narrow barrel of the Stowaway pen. This diminutive pen gives a write length of some 3500m which is phenomenal compared to the woeful offering of many alternatives.

There is a small gusset pocket in the rear of the notebook, a single ribbon marker and elastic closure. These notebooks come in a wide range of colours but I have chosen the chocolate colour coupled with a tobacco coloured self-adhesive pen loop. The three items- journal, pen loop and pen weigh 161g. Not light, but it is important to me to create a long lasting record of such a trip. Replacements can be sent to me periodically on trail as required.

 

Sorting through the trip piles

Still sorting out…

Have you noticed how maps, guides, books and notes can begin to accumulate into little, and not so little, piles of ‘important planning resources’ over time.

My attempt at sorting out some of those piles has continued into a second day. Once Mrs Three Points of the Compass is happy with how much the accumulated ‘stuff’ has been reduced and sorted, I’ll try and get round to a post or two on a couple of these little adventures. One from earlier in the year, one still to come.

Wildflower Keys

A library for botanists…

Wild Flower Keys

A week ago, I had pulled a photographic guide to flora off my bookshelf to share with you. However for those who want to take step into botany proper, and identify with accuracy, not only botanical specimens, but possibly sub-species and variants too, a good wildflower key is required.

Pages from the Francis Rose- Wild Flower Key

Pages from the Francis Rose- Wild Flower Key

In The Flora of the British Isles Clapham, Tutin and Warburg (later Clapham , Tutin and Moore) produced one of the finest keys ever produced, the descriptions are excellent but knowledge of botanical terms is required to work the key otherwise this volume is virtually impenetrable. It is a large volume though and my copy has lost its dust jacket and some point in its life. More suited for field use is The Excursion Flora of the British Isles, again by Clapham, Tutin and Warburg. This has a reduced content but, again, knowledge of terms and descriptions is required. Every couple of years I have to reacquaint myself with them as I use the books too infrequently to consign the essentials to indelible memory.

Also good is ‘Stace’ as it is often simply referred to- The New Flora of the British Isles is a more up to date book than the two previous ones mentioned and Clive Stace covers all natives, all naturalised plants, all crop plants and all recurrent casuals- 2990 species and 197 extra subspecies are covered in full together with mention of a further 559 hybrids and 564 marginal species. No wonder I cannot consign much of this to memory. Mine is the original 1991 edition. Looking at the third edition (2010) it appears to have been considerably updated and now includes a revised taxonomy as result of recent DNA sequencing work. Put my ‘Stace’ and The Flora of the British Isles together though and there is no better combination of wild flower description available.

Then we come to ‘the daddy’- The Wild Flower Key by Francis Rose has almost 1400 species covered assisted by over 1050 illustrations. It is still a portable book, if not for hiking with, however I do struggle with the keys. That is completely due to my continual lapse of memory as to biological terms, give me a good couple of weeks though and I am back up to speed with this volume.

Nailing down just a few of those strange, green flowered, Spurges with the Francis Rose Wild Flower Key

Nailing down just a few of those strange, green flowered, Spurges with the Francis Rose Wild Flower Key

I do wish that there were a decent version of one of these books, or a similar, updated version, available as an ebook/Kindle purchase. Such an item, provided I could navigate through it well and easily, would be of immense use in the field.

Books shown in featured image:

The Flora of the British Isles, Clapham, Tutin and Warburg. Cambridge, 1952

The Excursion Flora of the British Isles, Clapham, Tutin and Warburg. Cambridge, 1959

The Wildflower Key, Francis Rose. Warne, 1981. ISBN 0-7232-2418-8

The New Flora of the British Isles, Stace. Cambridge, 1991. ISBN 0-521-42793-2

Helm Identification Guides

A library for ornithologists…

Helm identification guides

Sadly, I only own a (very large) handful of the wonderful Helm Identification Guides. They are pretty pricey and due to my having another set of books, to be covered in a few weeks time, I haven’t been able to justify adding further volumes from this series to my shelves.

Pages from the Helm Finches & Sparrows identification guide. A look at this plate and it takes me right back to the hours I spent in Bedgebury Pinetum looking for the lone Scottish Crossbill in a roaming flock of Common Crossbills

Pages from the Helm ‘Finches & Sparrows’ identification guide. A look at this plate and it takes me right back to the hours I spent in Bedgebury Pinetum looking for the lone Scottish Crossbill in a roaming flock of Common Crossbills

A page from the Wildfowl volume

A page from the ‘Wildfowl’ volume

They are lovely volumes, there are updated and improved editions but these are still, almost, leading the way in bird identification. There is a wealth of background information on most species covered and they are not too impenetrable!

The plates were created by leading artists and text is by experts in their field. For example, Peter Harrison produced the Seabirds volume following 14 years of research. Part of that research consisted of him completing his three year art course, then setting off with his wife Carol in a Land Rover on a seven year seabird research expedition. For several years he worked as a deckhand aboard trawlers and crayfishing boats so that he could more easily study and sketch seabirds.

Some species have been omitted from some volumes to the annoyance of some, myself excluded. I am never going to see more than a few percent of those species included. Also, there have been changes to taxonomy in a handful of cases over the intervening years, but that is always the case. As soon as any volume is published, new research occasionally supersedes that which went before.

If you see one of these volumes at a decent price, buy it.

 

 

Books in Featured image:

Wildfowl, an identification guide to the ducks, geese and swans of the world. Steve Madge, Hilary Burn. Christopher Helm (A.C. Black), 1989. ISBN 0-7470-2201-1

Tits, Nuthatches & Treecreepers. Simon Harrap, David Quinn. Christopher Helm (A.C. Black), 1996. ISBN 0-7136-3964-4

Finches & Sparrows, an identification guide. Peter Clement, Alan Harris, John Davis. Christopher Helm (A.C. Black), 1993. ISBN 0-7136-8017-2

Seabirds, an identification guide. Peter Harrison. Christopher Helm (A.C. Black), revised reprinted edition 1989. ISBN 0-7136-3510-X

Shorebirds, an identification guide to the waders of the world. Peter Hayman, John Marchant, Tony Prater. Christopher Helm (A.C. Black), 1991. ISBN 0-7136-3509-6

Over the hills... by W. Keble Martin

A library for those who hike in the shadow of giants…

Over the hills…

by W. Keble Martin

The Reverend William Keble Martin was born in 1877 and died 1969. For sixty of those years he spent countless hours making meticulous and devoted study of the British Flora. From schooling at Marlborough he went on to take a degree in Botany at Oxford. Following ordination, he worked as a curate or vicar in the north of England and during 1918 became Chaplain to the Armed Forces in France. Later, he moved to Devon. Any spare time and holidays were frequently spent travelling the length and breadth of the UK gathering specimens and sketching them on the train home.

He was 88 when his Concise British Flora in Colour was published and it became an immediate best seller. Such was his skill that in 1966 he was asked to design a set of postage stamps, these were issued in 1967. His work is intricate and beautiful. I stand in awe at his determination and attention to detail. Somehow he found time to also serve as an active member of the first Nature Reserves Committee. His autobiography, Over the Hills…, offers a glimpse of the gentle and humble man who’s interests lay not only in botany but all branches of natural history.

This is a gentle autobiography and is never going to set the world alight, it is not riveting nor does it offer great insight, it is a simple account of the life of one of the finest botanical illustrators this country has ever produced.

Keble Martin's Concise British Flora is an old book, sadly, some reprints reproduce his delicate, accurate and fine illustrations quite poorly. There is unlikely to be any other book that shows diagnostic features any better

Keble Martin’s Concise British Flora is an old book. Sadly, some reprints reproduce his delicate, accurate and fine illustrations quite poorly. Get a good copy, there is unlikely to be any other book that shows diagnostic features on plants any better

Book in featured image:

Over the Hills…, W. Kebel Martin. Martin Joseph Ltd. 1968. 0-7181-0548-6