Spring is here, so spring on your bike today!

The weather very definitely plays a big part in my own cycling repertoire.

I know true all-weather cyclists will laugh at me for saying this, but I only really like cycling when the weather is dry….ok, if I’m caught out in the middle of a rainstorm, then there is not choice but to battle on regardless.

Cycling in snow I don’t mind at all, having had years of experience in those weathers when I used to reside in London, UK and Ontario!

But let’s get back to the present. For the past few days, the weather has shown unmistakable signs of warming up, which was my wake-up call to get my ike cleaned up and ready for this year.

I have always been an avid cyclist, and as we speak, I have 5 bikes…yes, that’s the truth!

Three are road bikes, with curled over racing handlebars, one is a hybrid mountain type, and the last one is a full-blown mountain/trail only job.

I always get asked by so many people as to what kind of bike they should buy. In short, it mainly depends on a set of factors, namely how often you will be cycling, what kind of areas will you be using it in, and how much of a budget you have put to one side for it.

If, like many people, you will be using the bike mainly in town, but with occasional forays into hiking trails or rough ground, then I would suggest you go for a hybrid type.

This will be perfect for general around-town use, and will also be capable of handling all but the very serious trails.

Just such a bike is the MEC Midtown bicycle.

It is a home-grown design, so you can be sure that it has kept jobs and resources in Canada rather than overseas. Beginning with its tapered aluminum frame, all th way to the very high quality Shimano 9 speed gear train, this bike is easy to maintain, parts are available very easily, and comes with MEC’s Rocksolid Guarantee and Bike Service Agreement….which is unique as it means you can bring your bike to any MEC Bike Shop for free adjustments and minor maintenance for a year after purchase….isn’t that something? And at just C$500, with a saving of 23% over the regular price, you cannot go far wrong!

See it here….

🙂

 

People ask why I’m always pushing MEC products!

Yes, it’s a fair question!

During most, but not all of my posts, I tend to make recommendations of equipment to do with hiking, climbing, walking etc.

And most times, my recommendations come from my favorite equipment company, MEC.

Why do I recommend them? Well, it’s a little difficult to fully explain….reminds me of what my grandfather used to say about things he was comfortable with….”Son…it’s like an old pair of slippers…sure theyre worn out, but I feel comfortable in them…!”

So it’s not to say that I haven’t used other suppliers for my stuff, but I keep coming back to MEC time after time.

Not only do they supply a whole load of comprehensive equipment, and have been for coming up to almost 50 years or so now, but they have such enthusiastic people working there…often times, I get a whole lecture about whatever I may be into, be it walking, climbing etc. But that’s not to say the employees are over-bearing..far from it…they are simply enthusiastic, all of them being outdoors people themsleves, too!

And the advice I get is not over-the-top like in some places, where any fool can tell that the salesperson is out to nab a sale!

Then there’s MEC’s interaction with the community. And this for me, and countless others who use it, is the final decider.

It’s what is the core of MEC that brings a smile to everyone who finds out…it is a co-operative, which means that everyone who buys a share in the company is entitled a voice in the running of it. Like myself…I bought a share in the place because I like what they’re doing, which means giving back to the community as well, not just making a quick buck and running away!

So that in a nutshell are just one or two reasons why I use MEC and always heartily recommend them. Over the years, I hope to talk a lot more about the company and how it works etc, but for the time being, if you want to know more, click here to go to their website….and happy reading!

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What’s the best stove for camping?

We’ve covered this subject before here, but this article goes to deeper lengths discussing almost everything there is to discuss about stoves!

The question of how to choose a camp stove sometimes ends up being a discussion with the rancor of a religious debate. Ultralighters, basecampers, and everyone in-between has an opinion. So let’s explore the different options, and maybe we can come to an ecumenical agreement.

There are many stoves on the market, and almost all have unique features that give them their niche. Ultra-light, ultra-small, ultra-blowtorch: they all have functions that serve a certain kind of purpose on a certain kind of trip. The “best” stove is the one that’s best for you, when it’s best for you.

Stoves are usually divided up into two main categories: liquid fuel stoves and canister stoves. They are often further divided into basecamp and portable stoves. Let’s take a look at some of the features and drawbacks of the various stoves in each grouping.

Basecamp Liquid Stoves and Canister Stoves

Advantages: Higher heat output. Pot stability. Capacity for larger pots.
Disadvantages: Bulky and heavy. For canister stoves, the heat costs a little more.

I lumped the basecamp stoves into one category as they are more or less identical in their functions. These are the large, two-burner (or three) stoves you recognize from when you were a youth. They’re big, they put out a lot of heat, and they’re great for recreating conditions that rival the home kitchen. In fact, we’ve been known to use our nostalgically green body with red tank Coleman two-burner for cooking french fries on the porch to keep the kitchen from becoming a franchise of McDonald’s with all the attending grease and none of the profit.

I also have a flat propane-fueled basecamp stove that fits nicely into spots where the Coleman would be a squeeze.  It doesn’t throw off the BTUs of a Coleman, but it’s quiet, clean, and quite a bit lighter. So what if your coffee takes eight minutes instead of six?  You’re outside, enjoying a lovely view, not at Starbucks.

The benefits of basecamp stoves are obvious: more heat and more stability. If you can cook in a kitchen, you can cook on a basecamp stove.  But what they gain in convenience, they lose in portability.  Take one backpacking? Nope.  How about on a canoe or kayak trip? A canoe trip, perhaps, especially if you’re not portaging and if you’re cooking for a very large group (over a dozen or so). A kayak trip, well, they’re probably not going to fit through the hatches. Oh well.

Portable Stoves

Liquid-fueled

Advantages: Best cost to heat ratio. Good for air travel (if stove is clean). Perform well in cold weather. Option to burn multiple fuels. Usually field-serviceable.
Disadvantages: Can be fussy and require priming to start. Possibility of pollution is higher.

A venerable Optimus 8R

These are common and popular, as they can travel all over the world, many burning whatever fuel they come across. They are lightweight and portable, sometimes stowing inside your cook kit to save space. They are relatively simple little contraptions, so they are long-lived and usually field-serviceable. They are considerably less expensive per BTU as liquid fuel doesn’t come in canisters.

Oops. Flare-up.

However, liquid-fueled stoves have downsides. They are less convenient, as they usually require priming and can do a lot of flaring up before they settle down to business. They can be somewhat noisy, like my old Svea 123 that I’ve had for decades, but it’s a nice little putter, which I am told sounds like a very small V1 rocket. Probably not very comforting to someone who lived through WWII in London, but I like it.

Many of these stoves have interchangeable jets that allow you to use different fuels such as automotive fuel or kerosene. If you don’t change the jet, they’ll smoke like an Italian movie star and eventually clog until they’re cleaned out.

If you are considering air travel, your stove must be whistle-clean. A friend of mine who went backpacking in Tibet wanted to take his stove with him but was having trouble getting it clean enough for the airlines. I told him something like, “Look dude. If you can afford airline tickets to Kathmandu, you can afford a new stove. Make sure it burns kerosene and donate it to the locals when you come home.”

The biggest disadvantage is pollution—a very small amount of white gas or kerosene can pollute a lot of water (10,000 gallons according to the Leave No Trace people), so if you’re filling your stove on a sandbar and you spill a few tablespoons of fuel, you’ve just polluted thousands of gallons of water. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use liquid fuel stoves, they just require more care.

The Trangia Methanol Stove

Advantages: Simple. Safe. Dead quiet. Use non-petroleum based fuel.
Disadvantages: Lower heat output. Less control over heat. Fuel is less convenient and can melt your Swiss Army Knife handle.

There is one liquid stove that isn’t conventional, for fuel or for function: the Trangia stove. A Swedish stove that burns methanol, also known as wood alcohol, it’s very fuel-efficient. The Trangia is very stable and self-contained and can be used safely in areas where a gas stove may not work. It functions by burning alcohol in a small wicked cup, sort of like a Sterno but with more efficiency. It has one small vice, and that is it can take two to three times longer to boil water, as methanol is not loaded with the BTUs that you find in white gas or kerosene. That said, you just have to alter your camp set-up routine—get out the stove and light it up, and when you’re done setting up your tent, you’ve got your water boiling.

Fuel is usually obtained at a pharmacy if you want the highest quality methanol. If you have a friend who’s a chemist at the local college, even better.  However, the methanol is tough on plastic. Spill it on some plastics and they melt or at least get very sticky.

The nicest thing about the Trangia stove is its quiet nature. Sitting on a sand bar on the Wisconsin River, I’ve heard herons hunting frogs in the shallows a hundred yards away, and the only sign of a boiling kettle was the lid rattling when the water was ready for tea. That’s nice. And since methanol is a wood alcohol, it’s a renewable resource. Bueno.

Another great feature about alcohol stoves is the safety factor. A spilled stove is easily doused with water (try that with gasoline–nope). My son used one in Boy Scouts and the leaders loved it.

Canister Stoves

Advantages: Smaller. Super-convenient. Lightweight. No priming or flare-ups. Best control of heat for baking, simmering, or frying.
Disadvantages: Fuel is more costly and less available. Canisters must be packed out and you can’t fly with them. Less performance in colder temperatures.

These little beasts have really come into their own in the last few years. Ultralight freaks and backpackers drool at the tiny little titanium stoves from manufacturers such as MSR, Primus, Snowpeak, etc. They’re fast and easy to use, setting up in moments and burning seconds later.

These stoves are more popular now as the fuel mixture has been altered, using a hotter-burning propane-butane combination. They light more easily, and they work better at colder temperatures than the old straight butane stoves.

MSR Windpro, a favorite for precision.

The downsides are considerable for the traveler. Compressed gas cannot be transported on aircraft. If you try to sneak them through the checked baggage, prepare for a very hefty fine and a visit to the little windowless room at the airport. No kidding. And it’s a dumb idea anyway. Also, finding the proper canisters when you arrive at your destination can be tricky. If you’re driving, no problem. If you’re flying, problem.

They’re also expensive to operate over a long trip. If all you do is boil water, no worries: the cost differential is negligible. If you’re cooking beans and rice, that’s one expensive pot of flatulence. You also will have to pack out the canisters, which on a long wilderness trip is a consideration.

Whitney doesn’t burn the eggs!

Other than that, they’re wonderful. A very controllable flame means cooking non-blackened eggs is possible. If you bake with one of the new stove-top ovens, then a canister stove is definitely worth its keep. They are also safer, especially if you’re cooking in your tent vestibule (not your tent).

So Which One Do I Buy?

Optimus (Svea) 123R. 38 years old.

Ah, that’s not so easy. I have a bunch of stoves…an old Svea 123 (the pretty brass stove shown above that has served me since teenage years), an MSR Dragonfly liquid fuel stove for kayak camping, and a baby Snowpeak that I use for backpacking. My Trangia I use mostly for solo canoe trips where I want peace and quiet. I have an Optimus 111 that is a beast–the only portable stove that can boil a big pot of spaghetti for a group of eight without using a sundial to measure boil times. Then there are my collectibles brought back from a stove coma. They’re beautiful, and they work.

An Optimus 8R and 111B.

There aren’t really any bad answers, just compromises. Decide what you’re going to do first, and then choose a stove that matches your needs. Just like shoes, no size fits all, and people have more than one. If you’re going to start collecting things, you couldn’t do much worse than stoves, as they are relatively inexpensive and a lot of fun.

Advantages: Collecting stoves is a cheap hobby and a lot of fun.
Disadvantages: None that I can think of.

Years ago a friend of mine came over to the house for dinner, and we got to chatting about gear. Before too long the picnic table on the porch was humming, and the wives disappeared as the methanol, propane, and white gas flowed like whiskey.  It was what my wife calls a CGM (Classic Guy Moment) when she overheard us discussing the virtues of priming paste vs. alcohol in a dropper bottle.

We ended up spending a few hours puttering around with different stoves, timing water boiling, and just enjoying the blue flames reflecting on the screens of the porch.

BEST BUY stove recommendation:

MSR WhisperLite International Stove

Just $97 from any MEC store…click here for more details

 

😉

 

A New Year….a pair of new boots…!

With the start of a New Year, what is the one most important items for an outdoors man or woman?

Boots, of course!

Without a sturdy, waterproof pair of boots, any hike or outdoor pursuit can rapidly become a soggy nightmare…trust me, I’ve been there!

Before investing my hard-earned cash in a decent pair, I spent and wasted so much time and money on inferior but cheap products…I’d buy a fabulous-looking pair of boots for a knockdown price, and during the first trip wearing them, I’d destroy my hike…the boots that looked so strong and invincible in the shop, now belaying their true nature!

It’s only after several such forays, that I learnt my lesson, and just in time too.

So, what do we need to look for in a pair of boots?

Here’s a short but comprehensive checklist for you:

 

  • Lightweight. Backpacking experts say every extra pound on the feet is like carrying 5 or 6 pounds on your back, so purchase the lightest boots that fit your needs.
  • Comfortable, yet supportive. There should be plenty of room for your foot to swell after a long day of hiking, but not so much room that it slides around inside the boot.
  • Non-slip in varied terrain. A good hiking boot or shoe should be able to maintain a firm grip in rugged terrain, on scree, in mud and, most important, on wet surfaces.
  • Designed to release mud. If mud builds up in the lugs of your boots, it can severely compromise your traction. Look for boots with widely spaced, aggressive lugs that shed mud with little to no effort on your part.
  • Waterproof. If you frequently hike in wet or damp conditions, a waterproof boot or shoe will help keep your feet dry and comfortable.
  • Breathable. Summer hiking requires your feet to breathe so they don’t get too sweaty. Some hiking boots and shoes have uppers made of mesh to allow airflow. Some heavy-duty boots have breathable liners to keep feet comfortable.

What’s your hiking style? Your preferred hiking destinations, style and season will determine your choice of footwear.

How sensitive are your feet? The more sensitive your feet are, the stiffer a sole you’ll need to protect them from rugged terrain. This goes double if you’re backpacking; you need the stiffness to protect your feet under the extra weight.

Do you need a waterproof membrane? If you often hike in wet or cold conditions, a breathable waterproof membrane will keep water out and release sweat as it accumulates. However, when water gets in it can’t get out and the boot can take a long time to dry when emptied. It also tends to be hot in warm weather, so look for this feature only if conditions warrant.

Shop later in the day. Your feet tend to swell throughout the day and on long hikes, so shop once you’ve already been on your feet for a while; otherwise, your “just right” boots may turn out to be too small.

Err in favor of a larger size if you plan to hike long distances. Your feet may swell a half-size to a full size larger than usual during these trips. This doesn’t mean you should size up from a perfect fit, but if you’re in between sizes, going up is usually the best choice.

Wear the socks you intend to wear while hiking. They can make an enormous difference in fit, especially since wool hiking socks tend to be thick. If you don’t already have socks to hike in, purchase them when you try on your boots.

Test hiking boots while wearing a loaded backpack. This is especially important if you carry a heavy pack. It’s the only way to be sure the boots will remain comfortable and supportive under your typical load.

And here is a pair of excellent boots, available from MEC stores in Canada:

Scarpa SL Active Backpacking Boots (Men's)

Check them out now..click here

Intrepid Englishwoman…but afraid of the water!

Recently I was talking to one of my friends who is also a keen hiker just like myself, and he told me a story that at first I thought was one of his usual leg-pulls!

He was telling me about a girl who apparently paddled the whole length of the United Kingdom, a total of 900 miles. She was accompanying another Englishman, Sean Conway, who was swimming the same distance!

Her name is Emily Bell, a 28 year old Englishwoman who decided to give up not only her day job as managing director at a magazine, but also her boyfriend to boot…..now that takes some spunk I’d say. But don’t think that this is her one and only achievement…no…for she has in the past, last year to be precise, paddled along a 1000 mile stretch of the Missouri river, too.

But the thing I couldn’t believe was what my friend told me next…that she is actually afraid of water!

Her 4 month journey was especially punishing due to that fear she has had since childhood, although she doesn’t fear drowning, as she’s an accomplished swimmer…it’s more a fear of large, unseen life forms. Many a time she spotted dolphins and seals, every sighting being horrendously frightening. “I suppose it’s watching all those reruns of Jaws on TV all the time” she says, jokingly.

During the kayak trip along the English coast, she battled really bad weather,, stinging jellyfish and lost equipment, as well as running very low on funds….sometimes she had to sleep in her kayak as there was no sight of habitation on some parts of the coast, although mostly she and her support team were able to land and rest in hotels.

Aside of the challenge itself, the hardest part, she says, was overcoming her fears of water….”To say it took a lot of willpower, is an understatement!”, she says, adding “..I absolutely believe I did the right thing and never regret it…I’m always up for doing something odd…”.

Hearing that story, we realised another point about adventurers, explorers and such-like…..why is it that a lot of them are always Englishmen and women? Has that famous saying “Mad dogs and Englishmen” anything to do with it…or are the English just a restless people?

Whatever the reason, well done guys…you deserve several gold medals!

 

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Emily Bell and Sean Conway

If you are into kayaking, there’s a fabulous range of items, all at fabulous prices, for you available at MEC…click here to see.

 

 

photo courtesy http://www.embell.co.uk

🙂

 

 

 

My favorite outdoors shop has a great idea for Xmas!

Over the past, we’ve talked about various pieces of equipment that can make our lives easier and safer when out and about.

And many of those items have been from my favorite outdoor activity shop MEC here in Vancouver.

Now, MEC have launched a wonderful idea just in time for Xmas.

It’s their very own gift card, which you can give to your nearest or dearest (or both!) as an Xmas present, saving you the time and hassle of searching for the right gift and wasting countless hours that you can spend at home relaxing!

The gift card can be purchased online entirely (although there is an option to have it mailed to you via normal post (snail-mail).

You can choose from a whole range of photos for the front of the card as well…amounts you can put on the gift card range from $25 to $250, more than enough to satisfy every taste…and pocket!

Click here to find out more….

🙂