I have used many types of stove over the years- white gas (Colman), gas, paraffin (kerosene), petrol, even diesel in an omnifuel stove once (just once, never again!) I only ever used hexamine blocks in army days. However my preference for most trips, where I will be cooking, is meths (denatured alcohol).
I have a number of beloved Zippo lighters sitting around the house from my days as a smoker. One of my most sentimental possessions is the old brass Zippo my dad used to have. None of these are in any way suitable for backpacking use when using meths as they are too bulky, run out of fuel too quickly and are pretty hefty too. What is required is one of the lightweight butane gas lighters. There is a butane Thunderbird insert for a Zippo but one of the plastic disposables weighs a tenth of that.
For most short trips, matches will do just fine for fire making. Be they waterproof (sic) or long ‘cooks’ matches, all are OK unless there is any sort of breeze. Lifeboat matches, with their extra long, varnish dipped, heads will continue to burn in wind and rain. However they are an expensive option. I like using a flint and steel, but this can be a right pain when meths is cold. For longer trips, something that will light hundreds of times is required and matches are only useful as a back-up, but keep them dry…
There are a lot of disposable lighters on the market. The range of models from any one maker is huge and my experience of what is available from this huge offering is obviously minuscule. But I have explored, slightly, a handful of the options available to me.
12g disposable lighter from Cricket
For quite some time I have simply used an Original Cricket Lighter. In 1961, Cricket were the first company to release a disposable lighter on to the market and, in common with just about any other brand out there, they all work pretty well.
There are various offerings from the brand. The one that has sat in my cook kit for years (these lighters really do last a long time) was given to me in a pub, advertising the UK chain of public houses. Mine is the Original model, long and slim, to sit in a pack of cigarettes, not that I am a smoker these days.
11g Mini-Bic lighter
Cricket do make a small version of their full size offering, however I went with the mini Bic lighter when I was looking to shave off a couple of grams. Though actually, my only saving was a single gram! But the slightly smaller presence of the mini lighter is an equally mini-bonus I suppose. Bic are a far younger producer of lighters, having only purchased the French lighter manufacturer Flaminaire in 1973, however they dominate the disposable lighter market. Well known and respected for good reason- cheap, reliable consistency. So good are their mini lighters that I carry a spare when backpacking.
The ‘soft’ flame from a traditional gas lighter can drift around a little in a breeze
A ‘jet’ flame from a disposable lighter is more directed, with less chance of scorching fingers.Note that just like a meths flame itself, the flame from a lighter can be invisible in daylight
34g disposable jet lighter from Italian distributor Afruni
I have found on occasion when lighting my little Speedster stove that I can burn my fingers in any sort of breeze as the flame drifts around a little. So I went looking for one of the ‘turbo’ or jet lighter options. There are a lot of these available but for the past year or so I have been using one of the Euroflame models from Italian supplier Afruni. I can’t find a lot about this company online but as to the lighter itself, I liked the jet flame produced, which aided sideways lighting of my stove. I also like the flip top cap on the lighter. Which I felt may prevent debris from clogging the nozzle. However not only do I feel that keeping the lighter with the cook set obviates slightly the need for a cap to the lighter, but, in common with many other turbo lighters on the market, my lighter was too heavy at 34g, even if it is possible to refill this option. The piezo ignition is another step above the simple flint striker on my Bic and Cricket options but both those manufacturers also offer piezo alternatives now.
2014 advertisement for the Torjet ‘all weather’ refillable windproof lighter
20g Torjet lighter, wrapped with a couple of metres of Hemp Wick. Total weight- 24g
What I have settled on is one of the 20g offerings from Torjet. This is supplied by Tor Imports who were founded in 1992 to supply cigars and smoking accessories. Yet another cheap ‘n’ cheerful product that does exactly what it sets out to do. I am keen on the refillable aspect of these lighters. When you reflect on the fact that Bic have sold over 30 billion of their disposable lighters, anything we can do to reduce this landfill just slightly can only be good.
The lighter is refillable and has piezo ignition. The jet nozzle is closed and protected when not lit. It has a long slim profile that fits in the hand well. It lights well and has never failed me.
All that said. It makes sense to be prepared and I do carry a spare lighter with me. There is no need for another Torjet however so a bright red mini Bic is my back-up. A bright colour lighter makes sense as they show up well in the grass when cast to one side while cooking.
Hemp cord is coated with beeswax and a flame is easily snuffed out once the job is done. Being stiffened, Hemp Wick keeps its shape when wrapped around a lighter
99% of the time I use my lighter as a lighter, simply pressing the ignition and sending a red hot jet of flame in from the side. For those odd times where I want to be a little more distant, usually for a wood fire. I wrap a couple of metres of Hemp Wick round the Torjet lighter. Not only does this provide a better grip in the rain, but it is handy to pull off a couple of inches, light it, and it then works as a handy, fairly slow burning wick. This will not work in any sort of strong breeze and needs the good shelter provided by my Caldera Cone. The Hemp Wick is not required often, but is there if required.
I only occasionally use the Inferno insert to convert my Caldera to wood burning mode and can see my Hemp Wick being helpful at lighting this at times, either catching the end of torn paper, grass or a smidge of Hammaro tinder card.
My lighter arsenal for multi-day backpacking trips. A 11g mini-Bic disposable lighter and 20g refillable Torjet lighter wrapped with 4g of Hemp Wick
I note that Thunderbird make a jet style ‘torch insert‘ for Zippo lighters, I just have to refrain from indulging myself…
Three Points of the Compass descending from Morro Jorjado via the Cuesta de la Villa, Fuerteventura , March 2017
I have just returned from a fortnight’s family holiday on Fuerteventura. This is the second largest and the longest of the Canary Islands. I stayed in a large hotel in the centre of the east coast. It was to be a holiday of many parts. The primary aim was to rest from the rigours of work, to see some early sun, to get a bit of walking in and explore the most interesting sites, history and geology that the island had to offer, to discover flora and fauna never seen before and to, hopefully, get in a little bit of sketching. To this end, a modicum of space was found in the suitcase for a compact art kit that could also go into the day sack on days out.
I continue to not only work on my, woefully inadequate, artistic skills, but also to refine a lightweight art kit that can accompany me on longer walks, in particular my Three Points of the Compass walk in around a years time. I wrote last year of a lightweight art kit that accompanied me to Sicily in 2016. This was another opportunity to further drill down the equipment I will carry.
Three Points of the Compass urban sketching in Puerto del Rosario. Time was always limited and I attempted to work pretty quickly, at least before my spouse became totally bored and wandered off…
I will be blogging later in a little more detail on the specific materials I took with me and others that never made the cut, but for this trip, all I wanted was a simple little self contained pouch in which to keep most art materials together. Something that could be pulled out almost anywhere and provide me with a small, discreet and self-contained choice of medium.
I took a small pouch containing the majority of materials, two small sketchbooks, a cotton wrist band protected in a baggie and all important bottle of water, the latter was for my hydration as I made use of a water brush for painting
Whereas I would normally wish to sketch directly into a hike journal, this wasn’t that sort of break, so I took two of my favourite little sketch books. One is a 3 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ (88mm x 139mm) that has somehow become my default sketchbook for churches, the other a square format 5 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ (140mm x 140mm) – though page sizes come in a little smaller, used for anything else. Both of these hand books are from Global Art Materials.
For such a small kit, I had a fair amount of choice and flexibility in materials
My palette was a home made affair that, again, I will be blogging on in the future. This contained a minimal selection of single pigment watercolours- Quinacridone Gold- (PO49), Hansa Yellow medium- (PY97), New Gamboge- (PY153), Cupric Green Light- (PG36), Cerulean Blue- (PB35), Ultramarine (Green shade)- (PB29), Monte Amiata Natural Sienna- (PBr7), Permanent Rose- (PV19).
This is an exciting selection only recently developed by myself that is going to prove a little challenging for me to use, being much reduced from what I am more used to, so this trip was an excellent opportunity to try it out. My intention was to increase the quantities of each pigment in my small palette so that it was more useful on longer trips, but still offer good mixing capability. As it transpired, I did so little painting that I have not, by any means, fully explored its capability nor identified any faults. Though I have already noted the difficulties presented by such limited mixing space. You can see the seven small wells I have built into the lid.
The small selection of coloured leads from Koh-I-Noor that I took with me allowed me to occasionally switch medium. This poor and scrappy drawing was completed in less than ten minutes whilst standing on the pavement waiting for a bus to hove into view. With just a few minutes to spare, the windmill opposite me in Tiscamanita was a superb subject that could not be ignored
To accompany this, I had a medium Pentel Aquash Water Brush. My lovely little Lamy Safari Fountain Pen was loaded with black Noodlers Bullet Proof waterprof ink, Pentel black ink brush pen (not used at all), Rotring Tikki Graphic 0.1 technical pen with pigmented waterproof black ink and a white Uniball gel pen. I simply cannot eschew my pencils entirely, so took one of the gorgeous Koh-I-Noor Toison D’Or 5900 clutch holders loaded with 2mm 2B graphite from Faber Castell. Despite there being a sweet little lead pointer in the cap of the clutch holder, I slipped in a 2mm lead pointer made by Faber Castell. To be honest, I should really have taken a pointer that would retain graphite slivers when sharpening, such as my Uni pocket sharpener from Mitsubishi, but I forgot it. As there was room in the pouch, I took a small, thin lead holder made by Acme for their spare graphite leads, but instead of their leads, I loaded it with the waxy 2mm coloured leads made by Koh-I-Noor (brown, blue, green, red and yellow). Also carried was a shaped eraser from Derwent and a small bulldog clip. All of this was carried in a zippered Lihit Lab Compact Pen Case.
Three Points of the Compass ascending to Degollada de la Sargenta, Fuertenventura. March 2017
OK, time to fess up. This post has got very little to do with hiking. I never, ever, carry the stuff I am chatting about here on any hike. It is bulky, heavy and other than one or two of the contents, mostly of little practical use on any backpacking trip.
What it is, is an example of what I am prone to do. Which is plan. Learn from my mistakes and inaction and be better prepared for repeated events in the future. I have been like this since I was a nipper.
Every day I go to work I have a pack slung over my shoulder. For the great majority of my time I work in London, but I always have a torch, screwdriver set, multi tool, water bottle and any number of other items in various pockets of my battered urban commuting 35lt pack from The North Face. Also, being in England, I have a waterproof packed, every single day of the year…
The Vanquest EDC Slim Maximizer pouch that Three Points of the Compass carries on every work day and trips away from the house by car
Recently I have been pulling much of my oddments together into one of the fantastic Vanquest EDC Slim Maximizer Organisers. I have also added a few recent purchases and am now content that my Every Day Carry (EDC) has the tools and other equipment that have not only proved themselves of use to me over the years, but now also give me a little more practicality and usefulness. I can put many of the contents to use most weeks, and on occasion most weekdays. It can get slung in the car for trips away and visits to my Mum where there may be the odd task that requires completing, as her battered old red biscuit tin under the sink with its even older selection of poor tools isn’t quite cutting it these days.
I have packed a lot into my EDC. Not only can I carry out a number of repairs, alteration, fixing or general ‘handyman’ tasks that require attention, but I also carry a modicum of First Aid items and small selection of hygiene products that will see me through the very occasional unexpected overnight stay.
Vanquest EDC Maximizer with contents installed
Hygiene and First Aid
I have included a minimum of hygiene equipment for the occasional and unexpected overnight stop. Two of the great little compressed towels are incorporated. These can be used with the mini dropper bottle of Dr. Bronners Castille soap. This is a very concentrated and versatile soap that I can also use for shaving, brushing teeth or washing out clothes. A small compact Avid razor is included. These are of a very thin profile and I wish they were still made as I have few left. The mirror is one of the mini Star Flash acrylic mirrors (in a baggie to prevent scratches) and the toothbrush is a two-part affair from Muji. I also carry a small dropper bottle of hand sanitizer. For convenience, I have this more easily available and packed outside of the wash kit.
My First Aid kit is basic, a few band aids, dressings, tape, a couple of alcohol wipes, nitrile gloves and a little medication: Ibuprofen and Piriton. There are a few extra meds in my ‘midget’ EDC kit that I also carry. This is so very heavily based on that devised by The Urban Prepper that I need not show it here. Though I do also include 5m of 1mm spectra cord, different meds, a razor blade, emergency cufflinks (yes, really) and a couple of other items in my ‘Altoids’ tin in addition to his list.
Electronics in my Vanquest EDC are limited but useful. I have included a high quality Micro/USB charge cable, folding Mu USB plug. The 200mm long Innergie charge and sync cable is very adaptable. This will fit USB to Micro/Mini/30 pin Apple, I also have a Lightning adaptor on the end. Spare batteries carried are two CR2016 and two CR2032. All of this is in an especially tough and waterproof baggie. Two torches and a flood light are carried- the Thrunite T14 Penlight takes two AAA batteries (fitted), has a Cree XP-G2 LED and delivers four forms of light:
Firefly (0.3 lumens for up to 137 hours)
Low (24 lumens for up to 12 hours)
High (252 lumens for up to 51 minutes)
Strobe (252 lumens for up to 90 minutes)
As back up to this, the Photon Freedom Micro belies its diminutive dimensions. While it can deliver any strength of light from dim through to its maximum 5 lumens, the almost indestructible body holds two CR2016 or one CR2032 batteries. and will run for up to eighteen hours. Also in the kit are two AAA batteries stored in AAA to AA cell converters.
These will also fit the Lil Larry Nebo floodlight. This is handy piece of kit that will provide task lighting. It has a magnetic base so can be used for changing tyres or during power outage. While in its full length it takes three AAA batteries (fitted), it can also have a section of its length removed so that just two AAA batteries can be utilised. In full configuration it provides:
High (250 lumens for up to 3 hours
Low (95 lumens for up to 10 hours)
Red Hazard flasher (for up to 10 hours)
The contents of my EDC kit. It is pretty much stuffed to the gills
Leatherman Raptor shears
The Leatherman Raptors are tough enough to cut a penny into quarters and the strap cutter is quickly and easily bought into use when required
These are an amazing piece of kit and really well made. Invariably they get used most as simply a better set of scissors than those on the Leatherman Charge carried in my EDC. However the 320HC stainless steel blades on these shears will cut through just about anything I may encounter- clothes, leather, webbing, straps etc. The tiny serrations on one blade really grip well and prevent items sliding out of the blades. There is a carbide glass breaker for auto glass windows in the base and a seat belt cutter that is easily deployed yet remains locked away until required. Obviously this can be more often used simply as a box cutter. There is handy little ring cutter placed discretely and un-noticed under the handle too. I seldom require the 5cm ruler and have never used the oxygen tank wrench incorporated. One of the best features of these 163g shears though, apart from their high quality, is their ability to swiftly fold away, or open, easily, with simple little lock buttons. They do come with a holster for First Responders, but I don’t include that in my kit. Instead I have it fixed to a mini carabiner hanging from the Maximiser pouch key fob and keep it in place, nested against my Leatherman bit extender, with one of the rare earth magnets in my kit.
Bit, driver and drill system
This kit has a complete and highly adaptable system. It mostly involves the excellent Leatherman Charge. Mine is one of the older models. Most frequently tasks will utilise the bit holder in the Leatherman Charge, possibly with the Leatherman Bit Driver Extender, extended still further if necessary with 1/4″ hex extender. Or the 1/4″ extender can be used just with the Victorinox Bitwrench. I can also use one of my three drill bits in any combination here. While it takes a little time, I have drilled clean through 2 inches of wood with the 6mm drill bit attached to the Leatherman Charge.
The Gator adaptor will fit a wide range shapes of head- nuts, screws, bolts, rings, hooks etc.
The majority of the bits included in my EDC are the ingenious flat, double ended, Leatheman Bits plus a couple of extras. In total there are 44 bits in my EDC, plus four tiny Phillips and flat head mini bits. Two sockets are also included. A dedicated 10mm head/ 1/4″ hex drive, while the Gator socket adaptor grip will fit heads from 7mm-19mm.
With the contents of my EDC I can loosen and tighten most common and uncommon screw heads, bolts and nuts from 1mm to 19mm. While Torx head bits are included, what I am looking for, to eventually include, are some 4mm micro bits for Security Torx heads. As an aid to this capability, a small adjustable spanner or the (smallest available) Knipex water pump pliers can be pulled from the kit. The pliers have recently replaced the small set of mole grips I used to carry.
1/4″ hex drive drill bits can be used in a number of configurations
Solkoa Grip-S handles
Solkoa Grip-S handles with 130mm wood saw blade fitted
Separated Solkoa Grip-S handles with 28″ flexible wire saw fitted
Though expensive, the hard anodised 6061 aluminium Solkoa Grip-S handles (there are two, joined together) are very useful. Not only can any standard flexible wire saw be fixed in using the set screws in each handle, and I include a 28″ wire saw in this EDC kit, but the handles can also take any round or hexagonal drive tool, up to 1/4″ diameter. A two ended flat/Phillips head bit is stored in the handle and the two handles are quickly separated by loosening one of the set screws with the flat screwdriver on the Gerber Shard pry bar. Any universal saw blade can be fitted into the Grip-S handles. I could have included a couple of the small jigsaw blades, which fit, but instead included two larger 130mm blades. One for wood (and nails) the other for metal.
I won’t go into detail on every item as reading from the list below they really are self-explanatory. There is an emergency twenty pound note secreted in the rear of the notebook. Tape measure gets used frequently. The titanium short-handled spoon is a ‘must have’, nappy pins can be used for hanging washing to dry and a thousand other uses, as can the paper clips and bobby pins. The lengths of wire can be bent into hooks for retrieving items or combined with the rare earth magnets to similar purpose. I would add a sachet of Sugru but it goes off too quickly if stored out of the fridge.
Vanquest EDC Slim Maximizer
Small- 100mm. Jaws open to 13mm
Knipex Cobra water pump pliers. Grips up to 27mm wide
Model 87 01 125. The ‘125’ in the model number refers to their length
Leatherman Raptor- Folding medical shears
420HC stainless steel scissors, strap cutter, ruler (1.9″/50mm), oxygen tank wrench, ring cutter, carbide tip glass breaker
Leatherman Charge Ti multitool
Titanium scales. needlenose pliers, regular pliers, hard wire cutters, wire cutters, crimper, wire stripper, S30V knife blade, 420HC serrated knife with cutting hook, saw, scissors, 8″/19cm ruler, can opener, bottle opener, wood/metal file, diamond coated file, large bit driver (double ended 1/8″ / 3/32″ flat screwdriver bit fitted), small bit driver (small, double ended flat/Phillips screwdriver bit fitted), medium flat screwdriver. Pocket clip fitted
Leatherman bit driver extension
Fits into bit driver of Leatherman Charge, other end accepts Leatherman bits and 1/4″ hex bits
3 X Alkaline AAA (NEBO). One cell reversed. Light can be reduced in length with just 2 AAA batteries but I keep mine full length
2 x Li-ion Duracell AAA batteries
Stored in Sodial AAA to AA battery cell converters
2 x CR2016 batteries
2 X CR2016 batteries
Sharpie pen, stainless steel
Black, refillable, 0.4mm fine point
Zebra F701 ball pen, stainless steel
Faber Castell Perfect Pencil
With eraser and integrated extender/sharpener
Tomoe River Edition
From Curnow Bookbinding & Leatherwork
Stored in back of notebook (above)
5m x 550 paracord
In quick deploy hank
2 x velcro cable ties
6″ Nite Ize Gear Tie
2 x 400mm cable tie
1 x 150mm cable tie
These are threaded into the lining of the pouch interior
2 x mini-biner
1m gaffer tape
Flat wound onto silicone release paper
2m black Gütermann Sew-All thread
1 x large black button, 2 x small white buttons
2 x No. 7 embroidery/crewel needles
1 x No. 18 chenille needle
1 x Microtex 60/8 machine needle (for use with Excel handle)
Stored in SD card case
Small, Sea to Summit, hard anodised alloy
Mini Bic lighter
With 1m electricians tape wound on to it
Has quick release mini zip tie on it to prevent accidental discharge of gas
In mini dropper bottle
Mirror (mini StarFlash), Razors (Avid, fold flat), 20ml Dr Bronner’s liquid soap in mini dropper bottle, folding toothbrush, 2 x compressed travel towels
All in 130mm x 120mm Aloksac
Uncle Bills Sliver Gripper Tweezers
Fox 40 Micro whistle
Shelby mini tin opener
First Aid kit
2 x alcohol wipes, 2 x plasters (silver), 1 strip ‘cut to size’ plaster (10cm), 1 x dressing (small), 1 x Melolin dressing (5cm x 5cm), 4 x 45cm strips Leukotape, 30cm x 1cm zinc oxide tape, 30cm x 2.5cm Transpore tape, 4 x Ibuprofen, 7 x Piriton.
“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and … blow.”
Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not, 1944
A simple wolf whistle may have suited old Bogey, but none of us can sustain the energy or ability to keep shouting or whistling without mechanical means for assistance in the event of an accident or when trying to attract attention over distance. For that reason, anyone venturing into the countryside should be carrying a whistle.
A whistle he says, he’s ‘avin’ a laugh! Also, who cares what and which damn whistle is carried? Well, I would argue that a little thought should be given to this essential piece of kit, then purchase the right one, attach it to your pack, belt or hang it round your neck, and promptly forget about it until the, hopefully never realised, time comes to use it.
9.2g anodised aluminium ‘mountain whistle’ from Lifesystems. Supposedly a 108dB whistle, I don’t think that it is a particularly loud item when actually blown and would question this statistic
Three Points of the Compass carries a whistle in his pack. The actual one carried has altered slightly over the years. Usually because I have lost one and simply picked up the next brightest, shiniest one on offer near the till in an outdoors equipment shop.
A small, brightly coloured, almost indestructible whistle- but is it a good choice?
There are some quite large and chunky whistles available that combine any number of functions- mini compass, mirror, holder for matches etc. However I believe that none of those are a particular benefit. This is one item where dedicated practicality and effectiveness is to the fore. The point of a whistle is to be heard. When looking to change my whistle recently, not only was I looking at effectiveness, I was also looking to shave a few grams off if possible. In really cold weather, a metal whistle can be painful on the lips, even sticking to them. Plastic is a better medium for a whistle, being robust and long lasting, provided the whistle is well made from a reputable manufacturer, such as any of those looked at here.
Pea less whistles have no moving parts that can jam in the whistle body cavity or become gunged up with mud and other grime encountered on the trail, or inside the pack for that matter. While this is perhaps unlikely to occur for most of us, it may be a consideration for some.
The volume stated on some manufacturers websites needs to be taken with more than a pinch of salt. Many manufacturer tests will have been in optimum conditions and a general look around secondary sources seems to indicate that many have failed miserably to replicate claimed ‘loudness’. I had a glance around at those whistles Three Points of the Compass has carried and used in the past, also those whistles that gain favour with many hikers. A whistle is not a particularly expensive piece of kit so I purchased an additional handful and set about trying them out.
The recordings I have made and include below were all made together, in exactly the same circumstance, same amount of ‘puff’, same distance from microphone, same recording volume. I have only edited them in length and recording output is the same for all.
Where you will carry a whistle will also influence your choice- hung from the belt, around the neck, or in the pack. I prefer to carry mine clipped just inside a pack pocket. Obviously not the best location should I be separated from my pack, that is my choice. Therefore, the bulk of a whistle is a secondary concern for me. Just as well it turned out when I tested this small group. Some whistles come with a length of cord or similar, some do not. This is very much of little concern to me. Far better to attach your own length of whatever length and colour you want, or attach a mini ‘biner if that is your choice. If using a neck cord, you may like to consider if it should incorporate a ‘break-away’ in the event of your getting snagged up. Any whistle carted along with you for hundreds of miles should be robust enough to stand rough treatment, work in wet, hot and cold conditions and be easily bought into use. It is no use carrying a whistle and when having to use it in an emergency, finding it almost impossible to use with frozen fingers or gloved hands.
The orange marine safety whistle, or Perry whistle, has been knocking around in various guises for decades. Made of lightweight plastic, it floats, is pea less, and, in common with all those shown here, will work in the wet.
I carried this whistle for quite a few years before moving over to one of the tubular metal whistle that tempted me at the cash-till one day, why, why…
This is a cheap ‘n’ cheerful whistle that is idiot proof to use. It floats and clears easily of any water inside once blown. The long body on the Perry whistle means there is no problem holding it with gloved hands while not blocking the whistle window. It is quite flat in profile and hangs well round the neck with a large 6mm hole through which to pass a length of cordage, split ring or mini-‘biner. The only thing that counteracts its suitability is its performance . I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with the Perry whistle, or the sound emitted, however these days it is only moderate in performance when judged against a couple of the others looked at here.
Fox 40 Micro
Fox 40 Micro
The Fox 40 Micro is the smaller version of the popular Fox 40 whistle. Originally developed as a pea-less whistle by Ron Foxcroft while he was a referee, who had experienced problems with his typical refereeing whistle and its pea becoming stuck or clogged with dirt or water. The ’40’ in the company name refers to Foxcroft’s partner at the time- Joe Forte. If the whistle is submerged, once removed from the water, any water in the whistle chambers drains immediately upon blowing the whistle.
The accompanying blurb to this small pea-less whistle states that it ‘cannot be overblown’ and can be heard for miles. Perhaps in perfect conditions I would say. The whistle is too small. Even with the un-gloved hand it is easy to block the side windows on the whistle body, muffling the sound emitted. This small whistle may suit children in a hiking party though. Despite Fox advertising these whistles as emitting 110dB, I don’t believe this, I also find the high pitch a little indistinct, the deeper tone of its larger sibling carries better I believe and would be more noticeable. All that said, there is little to go wrong with this whistle, it is robust and is unlikely to suffer crush damage. The shallow profile also means that it would hang around the neck comfortably. Despite its small size and not being the easiest to blow, this is now my EDC in my work bag, its small size and weight acting in its favour here.
Fox 40 Micro whistle
Large combined pack buckle and whistle
Combined pack buckle/whistle
5g (though part of a pack suspension system)
Many modern packs; Osprey et al, come with a sternum strap that combines a buckle and whistle. Obviously these are going to be quite modest affairs, some are very small indeed. So it may be questionable as to how effective they are. Well, listen to the recording below. This, admittedly on the larger scale of buckle type whistles, is actually a pretty effective whistle. The sound is sharp, clear and penetrates well.
That said, if you are wearing your pack, the whistle is always convenient and to hand. The sound emitted is quite high pitched and could easily be lost in the surroundings. For any apparent fault, these are a handy back-up to a primary whistle, just not something to be relied on in isolation.
Sternum strap whistle
Aluminium whistle from Lifeventure
Lifeventure aluminium whistle
I purchased one of the tubular Lifeventure whistles quite some years ago, not only that, but I also kitted out my family with one each. I may have given a brief toot in the store when I bought it, but it hasn’t touched my lips in all the years since. There any number of versions of this whistle from countless suppliers, many no doubt applying their name to a generic product. You can even find a titanium version if you want, please don’t bother. You may think that this whistle is defective so bad is its sound, but I tried it against two other identical whistles I have and the results were the same. A moderate blow is OK, it is when you really blow that the sound utterly fails to emanate. The suffering from over-blowing is to its detriment.
I was quite shocked to find just how ineffective it was when recording a couple of blasts for this test. A modest puff in a shop may produce a good clean sound, giving it a good blast with the intention of alerting someone simply overwhelms the chamber and results in nothing discernible. Listen to the recording below and you will see what I mean.
Fox 40 Sharx
Fox 40 Sharx
This is a classic piece of kit. Justifiably so when you hear it. Four internal chambers gives a loud, clear sound and the two slightly different tones emanating from the two sides of the whistle are effective. The harder you blow, the louder the sound.
The Fox 40 Sharx is a good size, fits comfortably in the hand but may be a little bulky in profile to hang comfortably around the neck. The raised plastic bars on the side mean that it is easy to hold in the fingers without obstructing the side windows. It is also possible to get a newer variant of this whistle made of “polycarbonate with co-moulded elastomer for slip resistance“, which will, supposedly, improve handling in the wet. But this carries a weight penalty (almost doubled in weight) and, as whistles go, this basic model isn’t exactly a lightweight. But come on, who is going to complain about carrying a sub 14g whistle!
As to what colour to have, well, take your pick. There are quite a few on offer. The bright red shown is a good choice though.
The cord loop holder offers a choice of attachment methods. All in all, this is a well thought out, well designed and effective whistle. An excellent whistle, it has now become a favourite of mine and accompanies me on Day Hikes.
Fox 40 Sharx whistle
Jetscream Micro. Bright orange, flat pea-less whistle is not going to be lost easily in the undergrowth
The Jetscream Micro, a flat ‘micro floating whistle’ from US company UST (Ultimate Survival Technologies), is an orange ABS plastic item made in China. It is high pitched if not as high as others reviewed here, and loud when blown with gusto.
Jetscream Micro, from UST
Weight is negligible with supplied 140mm loop cord attached, it weighs 3.8g, or 3.2g without. Which is more than the advertised 2.8g, but I am not going to be writing to the manufacturer to complain.
The small hole for the cord is not particularly well orientated for practical use however the flat profile should mean that it is reasonably comfortable if worn round the neck.
Like others here, the sensible bright orange build means that this diminutive whistle should not easily be lost and will float if dropped in the water. However, you want another colour? you got it! There a quite a few variants available.
This is another pea-less design and there is just about nothing that can go wrong with this product, being virtually crush proof.
This whistle has its fans. I am not amongst them. As to its suitability for hiking- I think its small size and moderate sound work well if utilised as a keychain item, or if the preference is for something to be worn around the neck, which I do not. It is small, and therefore it is possible to block the side windows with fingers, however the design of the whistle makes this less likely an occurrence.
Jetscream Micro whistle
Storm Whistles- Wind Storm
The Wind Storm from Storm Whistles is the smaller sibling of the famed Storm whistle. The Storm whistle is a quite phenomenal piece of kit, however I felt it was too large and slightly heavy to consider it here. Hence my looking at the smaller Wind Storm (right) instead. This smaller whistle is advertised as being the second loudest whistle on the market, the loudest being the Storm. Listening to them both, I can quite believe the hype. The Wind Storm comes in three colours; black, yellow and orange. I purchased the latter as it is a safety item and not the time to be looking at more muted colours. The quoted statistics, on paper, appear less impressive than some rivals- 103dB that ‘can be heard up to a half mile away’, however these appear to be verifiable statistics, and again, you only need to hear this whistle in comparison to the others to appreciate its effectiveness. As to the capability of being heard up to fifty feet away under water, I am not sure that many hikers are going to put that to the test.
Cross section of Wind Storm whistle
There are two main chambers in the design of this whistle, an upper chamber that contains a ‘pea’ and a lower resonance chamber. The ‘pea’ or small ball inside the chamber creates a pulse in the whistle cavity. The resultant sound is multiple in tone and really carries well. My notes on this read- “good rumbling multi-tone that reverberates“- not sure what I mean by rumbling, but it certainly reverberates. Another whistle that can not be over-blown- the harder you blow, the louder the sound.
You can see the seal joining the two halves of the body together. I am unsure how much stress this would take compared to the almost crushproof capabilities of other whistles looked at here.
When this arrived in the post, I held it in my hand, compared with the others looked at and thought ‘no-way’, it was just so much more bulky. However, having blown it, heard it, and compared it. It is the Wind Storm that now finds its way into my pack for longer excursions into the back-country. Note that while seemingly bulkier, it is more that the shape gives an initial bulky appearance, it lacks the smooth almost uninterrupted lines of many whistles. The Wind Storm is more ergonomically suited for use as a whistle, being easier to hold and blow. It also actually comes in a little lighter than the also excellent Fox 40 Sharx. Should the pea design on the Wind Storm ever prove problematic, and my belief is that it will not, then the pack sternum strap incorporating a whistle is there for back-up
Wind Storm whistle
The International Distress Signal
The simple distress signal is shown on the back of the Perry whistle
By way of reminder, the International Mountain Distress Signal is six three-second blasts of a whistle followed by a minutes silence, then repeated. The reply is three whistles. Keep blowing so that location can be determined. In North America the distress call is usually three blasts of a whistle with two as a reply.
Many people are more familiar with the Morse Code ‘S.O.S-‘. Three short blasts, three long blasts, three short blasts. While correct in a maritime environment, it is not correct on the trail. That said, who is going to mind? It is still a repeated three blasts and most people will know what it means.
On no account should a distress signal be used ‘in jest’ as it is quite easy to put others in either danger or at least greatly inconvenienced.
A whistle can also be used for general communication, just be careful not to put blasts too close together or they are likely to be mistaken for distress. Also, try not to use whistles with impunity, they are intentionally loud, and can be quite obtrusive to other hikers, perhaps hidden from you. A single blast asks- ‘where are you‘? Two blasts request ‘come to me‘.
The relative sizes of the Fox 40 Sharx and Wind Storm compared side by side in the hand
I stated at the beginning of this post that I was hoping to shave a few grams off the weight of the whistle carried, instead, I ended up with a whistle that is far more suited to the job in hand- i.e. making a racket in the event of an emergency.
Not only do the majority of the whistles tested produce at least reasonable results, as would many others on the market, but two in particular stood out as quite supreme items- these were the Fox 40 Sharx and the Wind Storm. One is pea less the other has a pea. Both are almost, if not quite, perfect. You pays your money and makes your choice…
As for Three Points of the Compass. I will now carry the Fox 40 Sharx on Day Hikes and the larger, lighter, Wind Storm on extended, multi-day hikes. It is on the latter that I am more likely to be getting off the well-beaten track. With not only a lower number of people within earshot, but potentially, a greater risk to myself due to the terrain.
The Wind Storm, an almost perfect distress whistle
I was looking recently at the various First Aid Kits that accompany me on various treks, be they day walks or longer. One item that I always like to ensure is included in a kit is a pair of tweezers. It is difficult to make do with anything else when attempting to extract thorns, splinters, grit within a cut, pick loose pieces of skin from torn blisters etc. A sterilized needle may be used on occasion but is never going to be as useful as a pair of tweezers. There are various hacks- smoothing a piece of duct tape over a splinter may ease it from the skin, but for some purposes, a pair of thin nosed or precision tweezers is what is required- for careful removal of ticks for example.
Tweezers come in a variety of sizes and even materials. The heads can be blunt and wide, or thin nosed and pointed. They can be quite large scissor operated for precision and strength, or a tiny pair slipped into the end of a Victorinox multi-knife. Stainless steel is an excellent material for medical purposes, doesn’t stain, doesn’t rust, strong. This is what most pairs of tweezer knocking around my house were made of, but I was also intrigued to see if there were any alternatives.
I had been looking at replacing a perfectly functional pair of tweezers with something equally as practical yet a little smaller and lighter if possible. I didn’t want to be too financially extravagant about this, it is only a pair of tweezers I was looking at. However I found that there wasn’t much choice out there. I found a number of surgical tweezers that looked the ticket but their cost frightened me off. The lightest pair of titanium thin-nosed tweezers I could find weighed just 10g. Perfectly acceptable, a pair of these has accompanied me on many trips in my First Aid Kit- but the search continued…
When I came across Uncle Bill’s Sliver Gripper tweezers I realised that my search was mostly over. These tweezers are small, of pretty good build quality and lightweight. You can get them in a couple of guises, each coming with the small incorporated key chain holder that does so much to prevent them poking a hole in anything whilst in transit. The original precision point design was produced by their inventor Bill Jones (if ever anyone could claim to have invented a product that had been in use for thousands of years already) in small numbers until development and manufacture was taken over by the West Hartford firm that took them to the next level. The firm takes its name from the owner- Elwyn Harp and his wife, Elsie Martha, hence El. Mar Inc., who still make them
These tweezers are quite tiny in the hand
The tweezers are made from a single piece of metal which is bent, providing the springiness that keeps the points apart. The small size and width mean that a precision grip is usually easily obtained. So simple and effective is the design that the U.S. military purchased them in very large numbers. These carry the National Stock Number (NSN) 3740-01-474-7377. Being described on stock as ‘spring tempered stainless steel tick tweezers’. It is the tick removal aspect that El. Mar have focused on to an extent to boost sales numbers to the general public in recent years. Many years ago these tweezers underwent a degree more of finishing than they do now. The famed ‘precision points’ were achieved by bevelling the point, however they are now simply stamped out and finished on a machine belt that, while it removes most of the rough edges, does little to impart improved accuracy of use. That can be rectified post-purchase though. Many might argue that having purchased a product, it should not then be necessary to make any alteration to rectify or improve performance.
There is very little chance of the tweezers coming separated from the included key chain holder on their own account. This is extremely useful in preventing them from poking holes while in transit
Each pair of tweezers comes with a little holder in to which the tweezers are inserted, they then open and are securely gripped until squeezed together to release them. It would be easy to leave the little holder at home but it is such a lightweight and functional offering that its inclusion is a sensible choice. If taken, it can then be hung from a key fob, round the neck on cord/dog tags, looped on to a mini carabiner or simply slung inside a ditty bag.
One of the prime purposes for a pair of tweezers on the trail is removing ticks. Some, but not all, ticks carry Lyme disease. Instances of this are increasing, both in North America and Europe. Once picked up from vegetation lining the trail and latched on to a hikers skin, if not removed carefully with an appropriate tool, a tick can be stressed or squeezed. Thereby disgorging its stomach contents, which may include Lyme, into its host, us. I usually carry a 2.2g pair of O’Tom Tick Twister dedicated tick removers when ticks are in season but a pair of tweezers will do the job almost as well.
“I have never had a pair of tweezers in my life that was worth a damn. Now I do and I appreciate it very much.”
General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the allied forces during Desert Storm, writing of the Sliver Gripper tweezers, 26 September, 1990
Black anodised version of Sliver Gripper tweezers
The perfect product to prevent the enemy seeing you removing splinters…
For the tactical minded amongst us, OK, amongst you, there is a version that may excite curiosity. This is the ‘military’ version; a black anodised Sliver Gripper tweezer. Anodising is a process where the metal is coated with a protective (in this case, black) oxide layer by electrolytic action. The black tweezers do look good, having an almost gunmetal finish.
Be warned though, while using the black tweezers should prevent reflected light revealing your position to the enemy (plenty of them on the trail) these black tweezer points will not help you in seeing fine splinters etc. The very opposite in fact. They are also more susceptible to being lost if dropped so perhaps are not the best choice for the trail.
Of course I was not only engaged on a search for a decent pair of tweezers to take on the trail, I was also after saving a few grams where I could. So I was pleased to find that a ‘Grade 1’ titanium version of the Sliver Gripper tweezers has also been made.
Titanium Sliver Gripper tweezers. Made in the U.S.A.
Titanium, a word that immediately draws the attention of anyone looking to reduce the weight carried on their back. But this material comes at a cost though, and it is for the individual to decide if the doubled cost of a pair of tweezers is worth such minimal weight saving, I suspect the answer is no. Usually the only way that increased cost can be justified is if the weight saving is large, an item was being replaced anyway, or if the titanium product offers any improvement in function as a result of its material. Both stainless steel and titanium are suitable for using on skin and will not cause adverse reaction, neither metal rusts. So I was interested to see how the titanium version of the Sliver Gripper tweezers held up against the normal product.
Titanium Sliver Gripper tweezers and clip holder
Careful filing of the points of the titanium Sliver Gripper tweezers corrected the poor manufacturing finish and bought the points together
I was frustrated to find that the quality of finishing, or quality assessment, was a little disappointing. Out of the packet the points do not quite line up and precision of use is lacking as a result. So not quite meeting the description on the packaging- “Accurately ground precision manufactured points”. However this was easily and quickly rectified with careful filing. Though this is not something one would expect to have to do with a brand new purchase.
A few minutes with a fine file adding chamfered edges improves the precision points of these tweezers immensely
The non-magnetic titanium Sliver Grippers lack the degree of finishing that the steel versions exhibit. Edges feel rough to the touch and benefit from a slight filing in the hand. I am unsure why a thicker gauge of metal has been used too, surely strength would not have been compromised by using a similar gauge to the original steel tweezers. The ‘springiness’ in operation feels different too, though I don’t think this affects performance.
Small and lightweight titanium Sliver Gripper tweezers. With key chain holder, these weigh 4g and are very functional
The remarkably light weights for any of the three variants looked at mean that any of the three would be suitable for a lightweight backpacking kit. As mentioned above, it makes sense to include the small and functional key chain holder with whichever is taken as it will certainly prevent them poking a hole from within expensive packs and dry bags.
Weight of tweezer
Weight of clip holder
Black anodised steel
Of course I can now be really anal. Having purchased the three, I could, if I wished, take the stainless steel version, with its superior gripping tip (on account of the serrations) with the titanium clip, thereby saving a grand total of 0.8g …
… nope, I don’t think so either!
Top: Stainless steel tweezers, centre: Black anodised, bottom: Titanium
Serrations on stainless steel tweezers
All of the three types of tweezer measure 47mm in length and are 9.5mm wide. The gauge of sheet metal differs however, being 0.6mm for the steel versions and 0.8mm for the titanium.
No serrations on titanium tweezers
Some improvement to grip is also provided by slight serrations being added to the inner 6mm of the tip. However these are only present on the steel versions, not the titanium for some reason. This is a surprising omission as their inclusion would improve the titanium tweezers immensely.
Black anodised tweezers also have faint serrations
The little key chain holders for the tweezers are all of the same type of metal as the tweezers that they contain. 28mm long and 9.5mm wide. Much of their strength in gripping comes from the broad head of the tweezer, tapering toward the tip. This is cut to an angle of 40° which may prove troublesome for getting into tight spots but is probably the sweet spot between strength and impracticality.
Uncle Bill’s Sliver Gripper tweezers are easily found on-line and come with a lifetime guarantee. I purchased my three from two different suppliers, and costs are reasonable, even when purchased in the UK. They can also be bought in dual packages, or in small plastic tubes. Though I see no need to prefer those last over loose ones unless a pair was going to be kept in a tool box and there was a wish to keep them clean and separate from all the crud around them.
Fresh out of the packaging the much advertised ‘precision manufactured points’ are mostly disappointing, being quite thick and lacking any chamfer
These tweezers, whichever type you go for, are not perfect. The tips could be narrower and chamfered and the titanium ones are quite rough out of the packaging. However, as a lightweight pair of tweezers, they are mostly ideal for picking out thorns, splinters, bee stings, gravel from road rash, peeling back loose and torn skin, even plucking eyebrows! Particularly if a few minutes are taken post-purchase to file off the rough edges and improve the point. They are then a worthwhile inclusion to even the most lightweight of backpacking gear lists. However their most important attribute must be their suitability for dealing with that most menacing and increasing of trail threats, the Tick.
A more carefully thought out sewing kit for extended hikes
I have chatted before on various pieces of repair kit that I include in my ditty bag. At that time I expressed a wish to improve on my small sewing kit. It was really just a small collection of poor quality items I picked up in a hotel and encased in a small plastic container alongside a couple of extra buttons and needles. I strongly suspect that this is exactly what most hikers do, if they even bother to take a sewing kit with them on trips.
The 11g sewing kit that Three Points of the Compass used to carry. Deemed imperfect, it was time to refine the contents
The cotton threads and selection of needles in the 11g kit had not been looked at as regards suitability and each time I had needed to put it to use, certain aspects had often been found wanting. Even the buttons I had been packing along were largely not required because of those already present on baselayers etc.
I have never yet had to repair a pack’s shoulder strap or belt ‘on the trail’, most such small repairs being effected at home. But buttons have come adrift, trouser belt loops come undone, tent loops have come unstitched, socks have holed. Nothing ever disastrous, but I prefer to look on myself as fortunate rather than anything else and I had the means to fix some, if not all, items while on the trail. It was time, I felt, to spend a few minutes looking at exactly what it is I include in my little sewing kit, what I hope to achieve with it, and what I could, or should, include.
Spare ‘little white button’ on Icebreaker base-layer
The first thing to mention is that I never include any form of sewing kit on a day hike. I only take such a thing on multi-day hikes where wear and tear is extended, or damage potentially sustained. I am not looking at fashion statements so have no real need to match button or thread colours. All I want is a sturdy repair job. Most outdoor clothing and kit is pretty tough, some items, such as webbing straps extremely so, and it is difficult to force a needle through them by hand. You can use a rubber ‘needle grabber’, but even these are not really up to some more difficult jobs, such as pushing in, or pulling out, a needle from composite shoe or boot soles, or even leather. A little lightweight thimble is useful for pushing in, but not for pulling out. In addition, a needle that is up to difficult-to-work materials is also required.
A typical ‘hotel’ sewing kit. There is little here that is of practical use on outdoor clothing. Cotton thread isn’t robust enough, solitary needle lacks strength, safety pin is tiny and buttons are poor quality and mostly unrepresentative of what will have actually got lost. being also too small in most instances
Thread is a prime example of why it is wise to look again at what is contained within a small ‘hotel’ type sewing kit as the contents are usually cotton, of a bewildering range of bright and largely useless colours. There are far better options to include. Kevlar thread is one of the strongest threads available and flame resistant up to 425°C and can be purchased in fairly short lengths in different colours. It is, however, badly affected by ultra-violet (u/v) light and loses strength when exposed for long periods, so is probably not best suited for use on outdoor gear. Most Nylon thread too, is affected by u/v to its detriment. A 100% Polyester thread would seem to be the best type to include as this has good resistance to u/v, mildew and abrasion. Cotton thread is not suitable at all.
Cotton sewing thread plaits are of no practical use for outdoors work. The cotton thread isn’t robust, while the length, ideal for the odd dress shirt button, is too short. The striking array of colours is also mostly not required
For those who sew, particularly machine users, there is as much brand loyalty for specific brands of thread as for any other discipline. Some swear by Mettler or Coats & Clark. I prefer to use Gütermann- a family-run company with over 150 years of experience. Their Sew-All polyester sewing thread is suitable for all materials and seams and can be used for any stitch type. They also produce a 12wt Extra-strong polyester thread with a high break point that is suited for highly stressed seams or heavy duty application. These threads are extremely suited to use on outdoor gear.
The Coarse (No. 150) and Fine (No 170) waxed polyester threads produced by Stewart Manufacturing for use with their Speedy Stitcher
In anticipation of potentially requiring something even more robust than this, with greater resistance to abrasion, I have also included a short length of one of the waxed polyester threads supplied by Stewart Manufacturing for use with their Speedy Stitcher Awl. These two products are a three (Fine) and four (Coarse) filament high tensile threads that can be put to good use on shoes etc. Thread size is about 207 (Tex 210). Awl-for-all also produce three-strand waxed polyester threads, though in a wider range of colours. Other similar thread is available elsewhere with a bit of searching. I have included a good length of the finer of the two Stewart options.
There other alternatives. Many hikers will make use of dental floss for sewing jobs. This is strong stuff. Mono filament fishing line could be packed and used but some can suffer over time under u/v. Some hikers also take along a length of wire for sewing with but I cannot, as yet, ascertain why.
When looking at thread specification, Tex is probably the most consistent method though difficult to simply correlate to Gütermann products. Tex is the weight in grams of 1000 metres of thread. So if a gram of thread measured 1000 metres, it would be 1 Tex. The higher the Tex, the thicker the thread.
Polyester thread sizes, tensile strength and weights
100m of Gütermann Sew-All and 30m of Gütermann Extra Strong thread. Enough for a thousand hikes
While it is perfectly possible to wind a few metres of thread around a piece of card, or a little less around a needle itself, a better way to keep greater quantities is wound around a dedicated thread bobbin. Because my kit is specifically designed to suit longer hikes, I have included the lightest plastic bobbins I could find, produced by Hemline (Type 120.14), each weighing 0.4g.
I included three bobbins in my kit. One has around ten metres of black Gütermann Sew-All thread on it, mostly for buttons, repairing loose zips, and some seams. For more demanding work a second bobbin contains around six metres of black Gütermann Extra-strong polyester thread and the third bobbin has three metres of tan coloured Stewart Fine waxed filament. This is for those, hopefully never encountered, really demanding repair jobs.
For someone as cack-handed as I, combined with a degree of myopia, then anything that can aid in threading a needle is a welcome piece of kit. I have sat in darkened tents, with the wind whistling through, and struggled in vain to make the thread pass through the barely discernible eye of a needle. In addition to large eye needles it is wise to include one of these tiny little threaders in a sewing kit. They are not particularly robust but weigh only 0.3g. Put one, or even two, in your kit. More robust examples are available, but their weight and size preclude inclusion when balanced against frequency of use. Otherwise, you could consider using Spiral Eye needles or self threading needles. Where possible I have included large-eyed needle alternatives.
There is no ‘one size fits all needs’ needle. A needle suitable for sewing back an errant small button is simply not up to the thicker and stronger threads often necessary for fixing back loose soles on trail shoes or a pack’s waist buckle that is beginning to come adrift. However the inclusion of a fine needle is also required for use for teasing out splinters or popping blisters (after sterilizing over a flame of course).
There are two main types of needle. Those for hand sewing, with the eye (hole) for the thread in the butt, and the needles normally used in sewing machines, with the eye for the thread just behind the point. Within these two main types there are then a bewildering array of classes, styles, cross-overs and even materials. Needles sizes are defined by number, the higher the number the smaller the needle. In general, within a specific class of needle, the length and thickness of a needle increases as the size number decreases. In addition to this, due to a lack of standardisation, a size 10 needle in one class of needle may actually be thinner than a size 12 in another class.
Two types of needles are taken for hand sewing. The two at the top are No. 7 embroidery/crewel needles, the two with particularly large eyes at the bottom are No. 18 chenille needles
For hand sewing, particularly with my eyes and possibly for use with thicker threads, I am also looking at a large eye to simplify threading, so something like a Chenille needle. These are similar to those used for tapestry or Cross Stitch but have a sharp rather than blunt, rounded point. Possibly more importantly, they are thick, strong needles that resist bending well. A knackered needle is the last thing you want with limited supplies. Chenille needles are useful for heavier fabrics as the sharp point pierces the material well while the thicker body of the needle creates a larger hole through which the thread can pass. In addition, I include a couple of Embroidery/Crewel style, which again, have a longer eye than a general Sharps needle. Embroidery needles are particularly suited to closely woven fabrics.
Chenille needles- sharp point, large eye, broad shank
For the machine needles to be used with my sewing awl. I included a small selection of sewing machine needles. There was no need to include smaller, thinner needles here as these were represented in the hand sewing selection. The sewing awl needles are specifically for forcing thread through tough fabric straps such as those of the pack, or for stitching back and repairing pack body fabric. The trail shoes I favour these days are not as robust as the leather boots of previous years, sadly, it is not an infrequent occasion for seams to suffer or soles to gape at the sides in places. Where a dab of seam grip (if taken) doesn’t do the job, it may be that a few stitches with strong thread are required.
Types of sewing machine needles and their application
Just a little knowledge of sewing machine needle types pointed me at which appeared to be most suited to including in my kit. Jersey needles are suited to machines working on man-made fibres such as polyester or viscose, stretchier fabrics benefit from a Stretch needle. Many sewers will know that the Microtex needles are the (almost) fail safe needle, used in many applications. The Microtex/Sharp and Universal options are favourite but the titanium Topstitch needles produced by Superior also appeared admirable. Where I could, I included titanium nitride coated needles. Titanium nitride is an extremely hard, ceramic, thin coating on a hardened metal needle. With the infrequent if possibly harsh use that these needles get on the trail, such a coating will last indefinitely and ‘should’ enable the needles to pierce fabric more easily and smoothly, prevent thread breaking so easily and strengthen the point, slowing wear.
Needles are sized in metric and imperial. The European system is the metric method and numbers sewing machine needles from 60 to 120. The American system numbers needles from 8 to 20. For both systems, the smaller the number, the finer the needle. Both sizes are shown on most packets. The size of a needle is calculated by its diameter, so the smallest below, the 60 needle, has a 0.6mm diameter.
I have included an 80/12 Topstitch needle mostly for use with the Extra strong thread on general purpose duty with the awl, and a Microtex 60/8 needle primarily for use with a finer thread (the Sew-All). This needle has a very thin acute point and is suited to precision work yet is still capable of being pushed in with an awl with care. I also wanted to include at least one leather needle. These are a tougher needle and have a triangular point designed to pierce leather, vinyl and plastic without tearing it.
I was going to include two or three of the extremely tough needles that are supplied with the Speedy Stitcher Awl. These are a curved needle (# 130/8B), a thick straight needle (# 130/8A) and a thinner straight needle (# 130/4). Instead, I have just included the 130A large No. 8 needle. This is a tried and true diamond point needle product and is suited to both the fine and course waxed threads also supplied by Stewart Manufacturing for use with their Speedy Stitcher (though I am only taking one of the threads). The larger needles are especially useful for tougher work.
A small selection of robust machine needles are taken for use in a sewing awl. The top needle is a No. 100 Leather needles, the second is a Titanium coated No. 60/8 Microtex, the third is a Titanium coated No. 80/12 Topstitch while the bottom is a large, strong No. 130/8B needle for more demanding work
While it would be possible to keep the needles on a piece of thin card, I prefer to store these more securely. This is to limit the risk of their piercing my gear from within. I keep machine (awl) and hand needles separate for ease of selection, each type being encased in a small plastic tube with end caps. These are re-purposed from my tool chest where they originally held small drill bits. Each empty case with two end caps weighs 0.5g. Tubes have ‘awl’ and ‘hand’ written on with a Sharpie.
Home made sewing awl with large diamond point needle
I decide to include a small sewing awl in my kit as this would provide the facility to stitch thicker or tougher items such as pack straps, belt or footwear. It was then a question of sourcing the lightest, yet still practical, awl that I could find.
The Speedy Stitcher (patented 1909) or Awl-for-All (patented 1903) sewing awls are really handy little pieces of kit and both being still in production today demonstrate that each have proved themselves for over a century. But these are more suited to home repairs or simple manufacture, being far too bulky and heavy for including in any more mobile repair kit. However the chuck design and use of, what is in effect, a large sewing machine needle got me thinking as to the possibilities for a more discreet and lightweight kit. I wondered if I could locate a small Dremmel drill type chuck that would take a sewing machine needle and act as a sewing awl. Needless to say a quick search on-line revealed that I was not the first to consider such a project.
Speedy Stitcher sewing awl, with coarse four filament thread and No. 130/8B curved needle for more awkward sewing spaces. Spare needles are stored behind the head. However this awl is too large to take backpacking
I have also taken considerable inspiration from the famed Chouinard Expedition Sewing Kit, sadly no longer available. In recent years, Patagonia, a company that originally just made tools for climbers and was founded by Yvon Chouinard, did reproduce the kit for the US market but despite emailed pleas to Patagonia, I have found it impossible to purchase their sewing kit in the UK. I am additionally peeved as I was offered one of the original kits some thirty years ago and refused it.
The first thing done was to hacksaw off the superfluous shank to the pin vice, cleaning the sawn end with a file. With collet in place (not shown here) it is now 30mm in length
After a bit of searching, I decided to adapt a pin vice or similar and eventually settled on what is described as a mini mandrel chuck adapter for craft and jewellery tools. This came with three collets for holding drills up to 2.2mm diameter. I would only require one of these once I had adapted the mini chuck to suit my purpose. This was a simple task with a vice, hacksaw and file and has produced a very handy little sewing awl that weighs 12g complete with T-bar handle.
With a little filing, the T-bar handle now has nicely rounded ends so will not poke a hole through the sewing kit pouch. It is pulled out of the hole of the awl when not in use and just lies loose within the kit.
A short titanium tent peg was cut down to 55mm and the hole through the body drilled out to 3mm so that the T-piece would fit. Again, all sawn edges were cleaned up with a file
It would even be possible to simplify my arrangement still further. If I took one size (diameter of shank) of needle and a small piece of dowel with a hole drilled out to fit, this could prove enough in itself to act as an in-the-hand awl. However I think the ability to clamp down on the needle, so as to be able to pull it back out of thick gripping material such as webbing or shoe soles, is a requirement so I shall stick with my awl.
The ‘Soldier ’95’ style’ buttons have been used by some outdoor clothing manufacturers but are troublesome to replace if they are broken or lost, being designed to be fixed in place with a tape running through them
Most people, myself too for many years, simply cart along one of the small ‘hotel’ sewing kits picked up with ease across the globe. These invariably come complete with one small white and one small black button. How many of us stop to question if the clothes we are wearing on a hike actually have small white and black buttons! Much better to look at what we are actually wearing and if a spare or two is advisable. Many shirts for example have a small tab inside with a spare or two affixed.
I included four buttons from the John Lewis haberdashery range. Simple four hole, black, plastic buttons, there are two 13mm and two 18mm buttons weighing 2g in total once put in a tiny baggie.
For most of my hikes, I like to wear the Montane Terra Pants. About the only button to be found on these is that on the waist.
Before including buttons in a thru-hike sewing kit, have a peak inside clothing to see what is already being carried
Other than these trousers, about the only other buttons on my hiking clothes may appear on a merino polo shirt or a Rohan short sleeve shirt worn as town or camp wear. So, a small white button after all…
Scissors and tweezers
I am not including these in my sewing kit. I rely instead on my knife and the tweezers included in my First Aid Kit. For those who do desire a pair of scissors, these need be minimal in size and a simple scalpel blade would suffice for most work. There is absolutely no need to pack along a seam ripper, though McNett seem to disagree.
Again, I am mostly relying on the safety pins included in my First Aid Kit but include one here simply to avoid unpacking more than is necessary if a quick fix with a pin is all that is required. To that end I have included a sole, large size, ‘nappy’ pin with sliding plastic cap that prevents it easily opening by itself. I could also look on it that one less pin is packed in the First Aid Kit as I know I can rely on the one included here.
The whole sewing kit is kept together in a small cuben wallet made by Tread Lite. There was a small mitten hook on this but I cut this off together with the short tape through which it passed.
The assembled sewing kit-
The newly assembled sewing kit- 28g in total
Tread Lite (with mitten hook removed)
2 x Needle case
With end caps
2 x #7 embroidery/Crewel
Hand sewing- (by Hemline)
2 x #18 Chenille
Hand sewing (by John James)
1 x #60/8 Microtex- Titanium coated
Awl sewing (by Superior)
1 x #80/12 Topstitch-Titanium coated
Awl sewing (by Superior)
1 x #100/10 Leather
Awl sewing (by Klasse)
1 x 130/4 long straight
Awl sewing (by Stewart)
10m fine polyester thread- on bobbin
6m thick polyester thread- on bobbin
Gütermann- Extra strong
3m waxed polyester thread- on bobbin
Mounted on thin card
1 x ‘Nappy’ safety pin- Large
2 x button- 18mm
2 x button- 13mm
I am sure you will have noted that this 28g kit is more elaborate than it possibly needs to be. This is because it is one of those little aspects of preparation for my long walk in 2018. The wear and tear I can expect over a thousand plus mile hike is far in excess of a brief one weeks jaunt of just one hundred miles. For shorter hikes in the interim this kit can be tweaked as I require.
It is very likely that another hiker would consider my sewing kit as overkill, however I would still encourage a glance over the actual contents of any small sewing kit taken. Do ensure that what is in there will actually prove to be useful when pulled out at the end of the day in an attempt to repair something a little more crucial than a missing button.
It is very easy to become a gram weenie, obsessed with shaving off the grams. Almost each time I shoulder a pack at the start of a trip, I give momentary thought to what can be left out next time. However that is not the time to be addressing the issue. I believe it is by keeping a list of what is taken and giving honest retrospective thought on the return as to what was actually used is one of the best ways of lightening the load next time.
The largest savings in weight are always going to be by addressing the ‘Big Three’- Shelter, Sleeping and Pack. True advantages can be made with those. But by constantly being aware of the opportunity to replace and reduce where appropriate a steady overall reduction can be achieved with little or no loss of function.
In search of the perfect pen…
I carry a pen. I like to keep notes, so I also carry a small journal. I’m no great fan of the Rite in the Rain style so take a 9cm x 14cm Moleskine notebook. It is, of course, perfectly possible to supplement this with a cheap (free?) mini biro from Argos. But there are far better options available.
Inka pen, 85mm
Inka pen, component parts
For years I have used an Inka pen (above). It weighs 17g including the 2g split ring that can easily be dispensed with. Mostly constructed of carbon fibre and 304 stainless steel, its dimunitive size (85mm) when ‘dismantled’ opens up into a full size pen (128mm). The aluminium shaft is 10mm diameter and the lower part 9mm diameter. The pen comes with a Delrin stylus that I have never put to use. I wish sometimes it was fitted with a mini highlighter pen instead as that would be much more use. It writes pretty well but I am frustrated in only having found blue ink refills for the pen. The 600m write length from the tiny ink cartridge is a bit ambitious I reckon, but there again, who goes round measuring the length of their writing. All we want is a cartridge that will last the length of a trip.
Inka pen in the hand
For short or quick notes, often all that is needed with the Inka pen is to pull out the actual pen section from the shaft and use the short section as it is, rather than construct the whole length pen.
The titanium variant of this pen has long been on my wish list, but I have never bought it as it is ridiculously expensive. Many is the time it has made it to my cart, on-line, only for me to drop out at the last minute, muttering to myself ‘how much? for a pen!’
Inka now make a pen made from carbon fibre and polycarbonate, a few grams have been shaved off as a result of the materials choice and it only weighs 11g. However, pens are a personal choice and I don’t like this newer pen. It again comes with a useless (to me) stylus. In common with my earlier Inka, it comes with the means to fasten it to ‘something’, the steel split ring on the earlier pen has been replaced with an equally useless (to me) karabiner* clip. And blue ink again, why always blue, I want black.
Fisher Stowaway Space pen in the hand
So recently I purchased a much more modest affair. This is, as far as I know, the smallest and lightest of the Fisher Space pens. The aluminium Stowaway weighs a paltry 5g and this is achieved mostly by its diminutive proportions. Fisher do make the Trekker Space pen, but that comes in heavier than the Inka. With my preference to only replace kit with lighter options where possible, that is why I went for the Stowaway. It is 100mm when stowed and 130mm when constructed for use. Construction is a far simpler affair than the Inka too, pull the cap off and slot it on the other end, that’s it.
Both pens in the hand, both are pretty small in stowed configuration
I now get the black ink I prefer. The pen is pretty thin in the hand, there is no denying it. The shaft is only 6.5mm thick. I have heard of some people heat shrinking electrical tubing on to the pen to make it slightly wider and more comfortable but I will see how I get on with it as it is for a while before trying that wheeze.
The Fisher cartridge holds a larger amount of ink than the tiny Inka cartridge (bottom). While Inka claim 600 metres write length for their cartridges, is is possible to get over 3500 metres from the Fisher cartridge
Both pens will write in ridiculously cold or hot conditions, upside down and in the wet, there is no danger of either cartridge suffering from ‘exploding’ or leaking either as they are hermetically sealed and pressurised. Some people claim that cartridges cannot be changed in these pens but that is not so. Simply press down firmly on the nip tip on a firm surface and they pop out the other end. Replacement is just as simple, slide in the cartridge and press home.
Inka pen (top) is more comfortable in the hand but considerably heavier than the Stowaway (bottom) from Fisher
Despite both cartridges being pressurised, the Inka (top) does not deliver as smooth and consistent a line as the Fisher (bottom)
There is another option…
Notebook pencil, with 0.3m of gaffer tape wound round it, it weighs 3g
The old story goes that hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent by NASA in the 1960s developing a pen suitable for the space missions. Not quite true, the costs involved meant that US Astronauts used pencils, just as Russian Cosmonauts did. It was only later that the privately developed Fisher Space pen was adopted for the Apollo flights and manned Russian space exploration flights.
But, taking a leaf from their book. A simple pencil will probably suffice for many, if not most, desired tasks. There is no need to take a full size pencil either, a stubby little affair will mostly do good service, and there isn’t much that is lighter than one of these…
2g pencil, ex Ikea
* Some people get a little hung up with spelling of karabiner (Bruce, I’m looking at you). You will, indeed, see me straying off piste with my own spelling on occasion: carabiner, caribiner, karibiner et al. But the important thing to remember, is, nope, forgotten…