Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dual Survival: a Man's Soap Opera?

Many moons ago I was in the military and I had some basic Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. That training and the mission’s requirements led me to have a peculiar mindset about survival which included different priorities than a civilian survivalist would have. During that time I attended a traditional skills camping weekend; not for training, but rather for fun. I wore my BDU pants, used my military rucksack and slept under a camo poncho like I was used to doing. Most everybody else wore blue jeans, just carried the stuff straight from the trunks of their cars to the campsite, and slept in canvas baker tents. At mealtime I demonstrated a dakota fire hole and explained how to use it and a conifer tree to have a clandestine fire, while they showed me how to cook an egg in its shell. They had one way of doing things and I had another, and we all just shared what we knew and why we did it. The whole weekend was that way…there was no drama, just learning. 

So why is there all that drama on the Dual Survivor show? Well, the sad fact is that TV must cater to the ignorant masses who crave drama and stupidity. While we would all love to see a truly educational show that focused on bushcraft and campcraft skills and experiences, it would be a ratings flop and a money loser. TV is big business and big business doesn’t do anything unless it makes money. So I understand why TV survival shows are the way they are and do not fault the personalities or even the producers.  They are just trying to make a living. 

For somebody who is somewhat knowledgeable and experienced in woodcraft or outdoor survival, much of the value of shows like Dual Survival is the opportunity that they provide to discuss and debate the scenarios, techniques, and decisions depicted in the show. To be honest I enjoy that opportunity.  So, until truly dangerous advice or stunts begin to emerge on Dual Survivor, I’ll continue to watch the show. But I’ll also continue to poke fun at the fabricated drama and pile on with criticism about the outlandish “survival” stunts!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review: Vargo Hexagon Titanium Wood Stove

I purchased the Vargo Hexagon stove about two years ago and I've used it on nearly every fall, winter and spring outing since. Because of it's amazing versatility and it's light weight it is my goto piece of kit for food prep.
Design, Features and Use
The design is very simple: a hexagonal base and six hinged side plates. When assembled, the side plates serve as the pot holder, wind screen and as the legs to keep the base off the ground to promote air circulation. One of the hinged plates serves as a door to add fuel, access a stove, or regulate air. Assembly is simple: fold the sides up and snap into place. The stove folds flat when not in use and includes it's own carrying case, which is handy since it tends to get quite sooty when I used birch or other resinous woods.
The Vargo Hexagon is designed as a wood stove, and works very well as such. The convenience of not having to carry fuel and use the twigs, etc. that are readily available everywhere makes this stove worth the cost. However, the stove can also be used with a variety of fuels. When paired with a Trangia alcohol stove the Hexagon serves as a wind screen, a pot stand and keeps the stove body off the cold ground leading to faster "bloom."  The hexagon works similarly with trioxane tablets and even on very cold days I've had good results; on a recent outing with the temperature hovering around 5F and wind-chills in the -15F range I heated ramen noodles with 2 military triox tabs in just a few minutes.

Cooking with a stick/twig fire.

Cooking with Trangia alcohol stove.

Cooking with trioxane tablets

The Vargo Hexagon is best used to heat water and do other simple cooking chores as regulating the heat can be tricky with wood, alcohol and trioxane. I think that most people would go to a cannister stove or a traditional fire for more complex cooking chores anyways.

My well-used Hexagon stove folded flat after prepping lunch.

One final thing that I'd like to note about this stove is that its titanium construction leads to very fast thermal transfer. This means that the stove itself heats up very quickly when in use and cools down equally quickly when the fire (or stove) is extinguished. I've found that the stove is cool enough to touch with bare hands only minutes after the fire has been extinguished, making for very speedy cleanup after meal time. There is a stainless version available which is more modestly-priced but a bit heavier; I have no experience with that stove but I'm sure it is a fine piece of kit as well.

(from Vargo's website)
  • Titanium Version Weight: 4.1 oz. (116 grams)
  • Stainless Steel Version Weight: 7.4 oz. (210 grams)
  • Height: 4 inches (101 mm)
  • Base diameter: 5 inches (127 mm)
  • Top diameter: 3 inches (76 mm)
Light weight
Simple to assemble and use

Like all titanium goodies the Hexagon isn't super cheap - MSRP is $59.

The Vargo Hexagon titanium wood stove is an extremely simple, reliable, and adaptable piece of kit that is perfect for cooking simple foods and drinks quickly. I'd highly recommend it to anybody for day hikes, bike touring, or backpacking.