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Posts Tagged survival gear

Snow Peak SnowMiner Headlamp

I’ve long been ambivalent about needing a head lamp for backpacking and camping. When I’ve used them in the past, I’ve found it hard to control the beam of light (it’s much easier to aim with a flashlight in my hands), and I never could justify the expense when I had camping lanterns that did the job.

Then last month I found myself setting up an 8-person tent in a 2-person tent site on the edge of a ravine at midnight (yes, it was a very long night), and I reached for the Snow Peak SnowMiner Headlamp I’d brought along to review for our adventure gear category.

Snow peak SnowMiner headlamp

 And now I understand what all the fuss is about. That Snow Peak saved the day (or night, as the case may be). With both hands free, I was able to get the tent up, and the beam of light was much brighter than the standard flashlight my son was holding. For those of you already aware of the many benefits of headlamps, I’ll get to what makes the SnowMiner extra special: its utilitarian design. The best feature is the multi angles the light can be adjusted to: with a simple snap, it can be pointed straight out to varying degrees downward. When not frantically setting up a tent in the pitch dark, this feature is useful for reading, making meals, or digging through a duffel or backpack for some elusive item.

The SnowMiner’s features are efficient, yet simple, which I appreciate. You get a single adjustable elastic band which the lamp clips into, allowing you to place the light anywhere on the band you desire. You can even turn it upside down to enable yourself to angle the beam upwards (though I’m not sure you’d even need to…maybe to spot spiders in the corners of your tent or cabin?). I like the soft shell encasing the light bulb; it makes for easy and safe packing in any situation, and it means I can toss the headlamp onto a table or into a tent without worrying about it. At one point during this ill-fated camping trip, my seven-year-old actually stepped on the SnowMiner, and it lived to tell the tale. (As did he.)

The LED bulb adjusts to three levels at the push of a button: soft light, bright, and strobe. The light offers 80 lumens when set on high and 8 when set on low. It requires three AAA batteries for 140 hours of light on low (255 on strobe, 55 on high). The strap adjuster and light button are glove-friendly, and there’s a low battery warning light that shines red.

For $56 at Snow Peak, this is a travel tool you’ll reach for when things get rough (and every dark night thereafter). You can trust the Snow Peak brand, and can also find it at Amazon, Backcountry, and REI for a similar price.

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Cheap Survival Insurance: $15 Adventure Medical Kit

With this kit, you can prepare for unexpected problems without carrying a lot of extra weight and bulk.

If you’ve ever been on a guided tour or hiking trip, you’ve probably noticed that whenever something goes wrong or someone gets hurt, the guide has a Hermione-like magic bag filled with all the right bandages and first-aid supplies. You almost never see a professional guide without some kind of daypack because they need to be prepared for whatever nature can throw at them.

How prepared are you when you go hiking, kayaking,  biking, or rural road-tripping on your own? Are you prepared for getting stuck somewhere for the night—with no heat?

It’s hard to justify a big and bulky kit that covers every possible bad situation. But I’m digging this little 4-ounce, $15 Survival Medic packet from Adventure Medical Kits. It’s got some first aid supplies in it, like antibiotic cream, an antiseptic towelette, and bandages. The real high-value items though are things you would probably spend much more than $15 on if you were to buy them individually and pack them up yourself. (And they wouldn’t fit so well together.)

This kit has their cool little firestarter that makes sparks, tinder to light up from those sparks, and an emergency blanket to retain your body heat while all that gets going. There’s a compass to keep you from wandering in circles and a signal whistle to alert anyone around that you need help. You also get 26 inches of duct tape and some very useful survival instructions in a small booklet.

All this packs into a waterproof plastic bag that’s about the size of one hand. It takes up about as much room as a solar charger, so it’s not going to be a packing burden or weigh you down.

You wouldn’t know it from watching 24-hour news channels, but I read that more tourists died in U.S. national parks last year than died in all of Mexico. But people don’t usually warn you to be careful when you say you’re going to go  hiking in Yellowstone. Pack one of these—it’s cheap insurance. Order it direct or get it from Amazon here. It should also start showing up at stores shortly.

If you go backcountry hiking on a regular basis, check out this heftier kit I reviewed earlier from the same company: Origin SOL Survival Kit.

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Timex E-tide Compass Expedition Watch Review

It’s tough being a watch company these days. The expensive ones still get bought as jewelry and for showing off, but for inexpensive ones many people have reverted back to a pocket watch: their mobile phone.

Quite a few travelers don’t use their phone overseas though. The roaming and data charges can bankrupt you if you’re not at a hotspot and the batteries drain so fast on the iPhone and some competitors that your vacation becomes a long series of outlet quests—assuming you have the right adapter.

So Timex keeps on ticking by cranking out great Expedition watches for travelers and outdoor adventurers. It doesn’t cut it to just tell you the time anymore though, even if it does light up at night with the Indiglo feature. (I especially love that on a dark airplane or in a movie theater.)

This E-tide Compass Temp watch is a great example. I reviewed another compass watch of theirs a couple years ago, but this one takes it up a notch with more features. The temperature part is more of a marketing ploy than something of real use, unfortunately. I’ve yet to find a watch that has a good thermometer and this one is no exception. On your wrist it’s hopeless because of body heat, but even sitting on a shelf it ran 10F degrees hot, which is typical.

The compass is a different story though. I found it quite accurate when testing in multiple locations. Not precision perfect if you’re trying to hike the Long Traverse in Newfoundland maybe, but close enough to keep you from getting lost in the woods or to figure out which direction you’re facing on a street in Bangkok.

The tides time part is what makes this watch special, taking it beyond double-duty gear status to something really multi-functional. Figuring out when high tide and low tide are doesn’t matter a lot for a whole lot of people, just like a depth meter on a diving watch doesn’t matter to a whole lot of people. But for those in a sailboat, kayak, or river boat on an ocean tributary, this info matters a lot. I once rode a boat into a village in the Darian Gap in Panama. If the guides timed it wrong on arrival and departure, we were sleeping in a hut that night instead of being back on our catamaran in a comfy bed. Other times I’ve been on kayaking trips where there was a two-hour window to get to an island. After that you would be slogging through mud. Plus there are some eroded beaches in resort areas that are lovely at low tide, but disappear to the seawall at another time of day.

There’s nothing particularly hi-tech about the tides readout on this watch. When the extra hand points to 12, it’s high tide. When it points to 6, it’s low tide. In between you can tell which direction the tide is heading. Naturally it will need to be adjusted as you change locations: high tide in even the same body of water will vary from one coast to another. Periodic adjustment is necessary if you’re on the move. I’ve been checking it against the water lapping against my desk though on a creek that leads to Tampa Bay and so far so good after four weeks.

I strongly prefer analog face watches over digital ones and I like how Timex has gotten a lot of features into a watch that looks very attractive. Unlike the Casio PAW2000 watch I reviewed before though, none of the buttons are marked. This makes it look sleeker, sure, but it also means digging out the instruction manual to remind yourself how to do the simplest tasks—-like changing that tide clock or using the compass.

This is a common problem with almost any one you use though, no matter the manufacturer. I actually choose which watch to use in my travels sometimes based on how much hassle it’s going to be when crossing multiple time zones. In that department anyway, this one is easy to adjust with the main crown button.

The Timex E-tide Compass Expedition Watch lists comes in a variety of face and strap styles. A variety of names too: sometimes it’s a mouthful like “Intelligent Quartz Compass Tide Temperature Watch.” It feels hefty and expensive and is water resistant to 100 meters. It lists for $170, but you can find it discounted at these links:

Timex Men’s IQ Tide Temp Compass Watch at or get this watch at Amazon.

See the Timex Sports Facebook page or follow Practical Travel Gear there.

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A Compact, Lightweight Kit to Save Your Life

Usually when we try out travel gear products on here we try hard to put them through their paces in the real world. With this little Origin SOL Survival Kit, I have to take their word for it on some of the functions. I’m not so dedicated that I’m going to get lost in the woods for days to test out all the components.

One thing is clear though: this is one cool survival kit. It’s newly released from Adventure Medical Kits, a company that’s already the leading player in this product space. The SOL part is for “survive outdoors longer” (not that you use it when you think you might be “S.O.L.” yourself.)

The real key to why this thing is such a leap forward is the careful design. The waterproof case fits in the palm of your hand and only weighs 6.25 ounces. So there’s no excuse for not packing this if you’re headed into the backcountry. In this tiny box they’ve jammed an incredible amount of life-saving components, however. Compass? Check. Knife? Check. Items to start a fire? Check. Whistle, signal mirror, fishing hooks, twine, and sewing needle? Check.

There’s more, and these aren’t just random items jammed into a small space. There’s a flint striker that actually works, along with little “Tinder Quick” fire starters that will get a fire going easily. It’s all integrated and space-saving, everything large locking into place. In the spirit of double-duty gear, the whistle, knife, and LED flashlight are one finger-sized unit and you can use the flashlight without taking that part out.

What I could test, I did, and everything worked as needed, like the light, compass, knife, and fire starter kit. I didn’t string up a tarp with the twine, purify water with the aluminum foil, or go fishing with the line and hooks, but I trust them. If I felt useless when lost, there’s help on that front too: an included illustrated booklet has 62 life saving tools and techniques from survival expert Buck Tilton.

The SOL Origin survival kit lists for $60. Is your life worth that much? I hope so.

This kit is just now getting out there at retail, so follow this Bizrate link to see options on where you can order it.

Related reviews: Adventure Medical Kits for travelers and Women’s Edition Travel Medical Kit

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Camping Light: Kelty’s Lumapivot Lantern

I don’t know why we’ve taken so long to upgrade our camping kit with decent lighting. Sure, we carry candles and flashlights and a headlamp, but typically, we just shut down our efforts with the close of day. This has meant an early dinner, a bit of reading in the tent as the light fades, and, well, that’s about it for the evening. I used to have one of those old propane lanterns, the kind that used the ever fragile mantle. The light was great, but they were kind of high maintenance plus, you don’t want a propane fueled fire in your tent. No way.

Kelty’s Lumapivot Lantern is going to open up a whole new world of cooking after dark and reading in bed for our summer camping trips. This cute, versatile little light could have been designed in an almost answer to my camp light wish list.

I’ll mention the one thing I found less than ideal about it first. It takes six AA batteries. I wish it had been designed with an AC rechargeable power supply. An outlet just isn’t that hard to find — we’ve got one in our car, even. Sure, I can stock it with rechargeable batteries, but then, I’ve got to also pack a recharger. This isn’t a backpacker’s device, it’s for car/trailer campers who don’t worry so much about weight, so I’m not convinced it couldn’t be rechargeable. You’ll get about six hours of light, total, using the lantern on full power, so if you’re cooking dinner in the dark every night, you’ll probably burn through the batteries fairly quickly. Power source aside, there’s lots of stuff to like about this well designed little lantern.

It’s light enough to hang up inside your tent, for starters. We’re always Gerry-rigging a flashlight or a headlamp to hang from the “ceiling” and then, the light is never where you want it to be. But the adjustable wings (check the picture, you’ll see what I mean) allow you to point the light in any direction you want. The lamp has a three way switch: off, both wings, one wing — so you can decide how much light you need. It’s bright, really bright — the specs say you get 35 feet of usable light. The design is really clever — 360 degrees of rotation, a sturdy base that’s unlikely to knock over (our old propane lamp was kind of top heavy), bright LEDs as the light source, a handle so you can carry it around camp easily. It’s white, which seems like a weird choice for a campground product, but that makes it easy to find in the dark. It’s weatherproof, meaning yes, you can use it outdoors in the rain — a Pacific Northwest camper’s bonus — though I’d avoid dropping it off the side of a boat or pushing this too much. And did I mention? It’s cute. I like it.

I’m a fan of sturdy, well designed camping gear that’s genuinely useful. The Kelty Lumapivot Lantern is going into our car camping kit as standard gear. Car campers, folks with trailers, or even after dark back yard diners might find they like having this little lantern join them in their evening outdoor activities.

Get yours directly from Kelty or check the latest prices on Amazon.

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