Outdoor Equipment Improvements

Compact Thermometer

I've often seen little thermometers that attach to a jacket zipper, maybe an inch and a half long, with about a half inch of plastic on each side of the tube. There is no way it can have a scale big enough to give an accurate reading over a wide range of temperatures, say from zero Fahrenheit to 120. But if it had a much longer tube, it would be possible.

This could be done compactly with a tube which zig-zags from a larger bulb. Then the scale of tens of degrees could be along a side at one end of the zig-zags and marked but unnumbered degrees marked on each horizontal tube (since some scales would increase in one direction and alternate scales in the other). I haven't had a lot of luck in making a prototype, but it doesn't seem like a big problem for a professional shop. One possibility I haven't tried yet is to make the sig-sag out of low-melting-point wire, then mold plastic around it, then melt the wire and drain it out.

Hypothermia Alarm

When backpacking, rock-climbing, boating etc. in cold and wet weather, hypothermia can be a critical factor. When it occurs we start to lose our sensibilities and may make foolish decisions. One member of a group can become hypothermic long before the others, and they may not recognize it until too late. Hypothermia basically means the body is no longer has the energy it needs to maintain a temperature at which it can function well. But it would be easy to build a small electronic device which would use very little current, with a temperature sensor to be worn in any of a number of places on the body. It would sound an alarm, or perhaps give specific spoken instructions, if the body drops below a set temperature.

Modular Outdoor Tool

A simple hiking stick can be a very useful multi-purpose tool. If you doubt this, I can supply a short published article by me on its many uses. But sometimes it's hard to find an appropriate stick in the wild, cumbersome to carry it in a car and impossible in a backpack. A "stick" that's assembled from several parts is an obvious, and common, solution. But also it's handy to be able to use the same stick as a handle for other tools, such as a shovel, saw, emergency paddle, mono-pod for cameras and binoculars, emergency tent pole, and for the romantic adventurer types, converting a knife to a spear. This would be especially practical if there was one standard joint designed for many tools and sections of handles. It might have screw threads and a button on a spring (like many aluminum paddle shafts) to keep it from unscrewing. On the other hand, it should also be kept simple so that "wild" sticks could be carved to fit. It should also be adaptable so that units of wood, fiberglass, plastic or aluminum could be interconnected. Many tools for instance could have hollow handles which would fit over a solid stick.

Campground Lanterns

I'm often annoyed by campground lanterns at other tables which spread light throughout a campground and make it impossible to see in the shadows. I would prefer a light on a high pole (the modular outdoor tool no doubt), or hanging from a branch, with a reflector so all the light went downward. Also collapsible reflectors of this sort for conventional lights would be nice.

And More

The principle of "Jerry tubes", but in larger sizes, both wide-mouth and small-mouth.

Adapting the catalytic burner principle to melting snow (and possibly for slow cooking) either in camp while I'm away, or in my pack. Melted snow or ice is the main source of water at high altitudes, but stoves seem so inefficient for this. The simple version would be a jar of snow and a catalytic hand warmer in an insulated bag. The "Crock Pot" type slow-cookers consist of a small heat source and good insulation, for which a Thermos jug would do fine. A "heat pipe" might connect it to the catalytic heater.

But now I'm also thinking about a combination snow melter and water purifier which would boil the water, then transfer the heat to the snow or incoming water, thereby producing fairly cold, sterilized water.

Several years ago I learned how to make a small, simple wood stove from a coffee can, and coat hanger wire for a grate. It needed only twigs to make a good fire. Once I even used dry grass successfully. But it was a bit bulky. How about a simple, square stove made of four flat, hinged panels, with each side maybe 5" X 7", one side with a door? It would have adjustable vents at the top and bottom of two or more sides.

A boater's jacket of "breathable" fabric, but with large zippered pockets on each side of the chest. The pockets would hold a canister of compressed liquid foam material. When a cord was pulled, or perhaps when the canister got very wet, it would burst and the foam would inflate and harden, without penetrating the close-weave fabric of the pockets . It could be removed later by dissolving the surface with a common solvent, or the pockets could be replaced.

The same kind of system would be good for boats, for instance open canoes. Space is often at a premium, especially for the feet of the person in the bow. Floatation isn't needed until an emergency, at which time perhaps bladders, mounted in the bow and stern, or elsewhere, would inflate.

I tend to avoid specialized, high-priced equipment. For instance I wear Velcro-fastened athletic shoes from Pay-Less for general use, including hiking and light rock-climbing. A better shoe would only mean more difficulty finding a challenging climb. The Velcro seems quite satisfactory for my use and I would like to find it on high-top shoes, and more variety of Velcro low-tops. I've seen one pair of high-tops, on a hike leader, but never since.

I'd be quicker to buy many products of all kinds if I had sufficient comparison information and felt reasonably able to clearly identify a good deal. Energy-using and producing products are relatively easy to compare in numerical values. I'd like to see considerably better information, particularly for nutritional value of food by weight, volume and price; light output and endurance of flashlights, batteries and bulbs; efficiency of stoves and fuels.

It's naturally a bit hard to digitize and chart food flavors, since they're in the mouth of the beholder. But for both indoor and outdoor foods, I'd like to see more foods that didn't concentrate so much on flavor, and therefore would be reserved for when they're needed, rather than encouraging us to overeat.

I'd like to see comparisons of all fuels, liquid and gas, in terms of temperature and energy content per weight (including container), volume and price. It's not enough to simply say "White gas stoves are generally termed `high output' as they tend to burn hotter than butane." How much hotter, and for how long?

It would be nice if more camping tents were available that would blend in with the environment, camouflaged, olive-drab, gray or brown to look like a boulder.

If you're into primitive tools, I've invented an improvement on one that's maybe been around and unimproved for a million years, the bow drill. The original version may work better with natural rawhide and such than with nylon cord, but this is an improvement on both. Traditionally, they have one cord going between the ends of the bow and wrapping around the shaft. Istead, use two cord, one from each end of the bow, tied near each end of the shaft. They're long enough that they can be wound several times around the shaft, in opposite directions. One winds up as the other unwinds.

Contours on Forest Service Maps

Do you have any pull with government agencies? Forest Service maps would be much improved if they had just a little bit of contour information. It would help considerably in finding my way through the mountains if I knew which side of the road bank was supposed to slope up and which side sloped down. I could also understand the map better having just this information. This could be easily displayed on the maps, perhaps by short lines perpendicular to the roads on the downhill side, or by two lines for each road, the uphill side being a thicker line. Either of these methods could even show the relative steepness of the bank. Hopefully these days such maps are in computers and it shouldn't be too hard to transfer information from topographical maps to others, assuming that different government departments can get together and share their information and facilities.

Solution to National Park Bear Problems

Discourage bears, and probably other animals, from getting food in campgrounds, garbage cans etc. by making a variety of food available in all such places, which is poisoned just enough to make them mildly sick, but maybe including a tranquilizer so they wouldn't get angry. They would soon learn that the food they get there isn't worth the cost.
Send me your thoughts.
Dan Robinson, danrob@efn.org, Eugene, Oregon
My home page: http://www.efn.org/~danrob/