Random Cool Stuff – May Edition

English: Food dehydrator Français : Déshydrateur
Slightly nicer then mine, but the same brand. Get one ASAP! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t believe May is almost over already. But the good part of a month flying by is getting to share a some random cool stuff I gleaned this month – from the Internet, from books, wherever.

Up first, let’s talk about some interesting things I’ve started to do with stuff out of my foods dehydrator. My two favorite dehydrated foods are jerky and apples. But check this out – there are a few things you can do with jerky and apples next time you go camping -- beyond just eating them as-is.

First, the jerky. If you use those dehydrated meal packs, you’ll notice that they’re generally low on protein. Bump that protein factor up by tossing some jerky in there – but be sure to add a bit of extra hot water. If you make a nice jerky in a good marinade, this will also make your camp food far tastier. Speaking of dehydrated camp meals, I’ve heard that some people make complete dehydrated meals at home: If you have some advice, please pass it on – I’d like to take a shot at this, and I trust any advice from a reader more than a random Internet search.

The Swedish FireKnife is a cool piece of gear – it could be a game changer in “Naked and Afraid!”

The same goes for the apples. If you’re making oatmeal, toss some apples in there for extra flavor. Delicious!

Now I’m about to get personal. Ever since I went to the Aboriginal Living Skills School, people have been wanting me to try getting on the TV show Naked and Afraid (this includes many of my relatives, and I am more than slightly disturbed by how many want me to run around naked on TV).

Anyway, I ran across a reference to some of the gear choices Naked and Afraid contestants picked at the start of the show. It got me wondering what I’d pick. Only one of them picked a piece of gear that I use: the Swedish Firesteel. This is a solid piece of gear that I’ve used to start many fires – even at home for my barbecue grill: Like anything, using a flint is a skill, and it’s one you should practice even when you don’t need to. I’ve also started more hand drill fires at home than I have camping, no contest.

You're seeing this ridiculous dog in a bike basket because this is a "random stuff" post. This ludicrous dog was in Hanoi.
You’re seeing this ridiculous dog in a bike basket because this is a “random stuff” post. This ludicrous dog was in Hanoi.

Back to the Firesteel: I think a smart Naked and Afraid duo would be smart to make it one of their choices, with the other person using a small bushcraft knife. I’d suggest resisting the urge to go with a machete, big quasi-survival knife or hatchet. Not even a bottle – there are ways to make water-carrying vessel, one that can endure heat to boil water for purifying; iif you could get the Swedish Fireknife, you’d get knife and flint in one and be able to let your partner grab a water vessel. That’s a pretty kick-ass little knife with a sharp Scandinavian-ground edge. The flat spine and thin-but-strong blade make it great for batoning, which negates the need for an axe. It’s also stupid-cheap, yet very decent, un-fancy quality for frugal folks.

Get one of these. Seriously. (Photo from

Third up – I’ve absolutely fallen in love with my 32-ounce BPA-free REI bottle. It holds plenty of water, and a pair of them are with me on every hike. I had only one problem with them, and that was the wide mouth. One false move, and I’m wearing more water than I’m drinking.

I discovered the Guyot Designs Splashguard, a cool silicone insert that turns many types of wide-mouth bottles into sippy-cups for outdoorsy adults.

But there’s another really cool thing the Splashguard can do: Have you ever had a pair of bottles, one with water that’s disinfected and ready to drink, and one that you just treated with a few drops of iodine -- and you can’t remember which is which? Your Splashguard can be the key. The bottle with the Splashguard is ready to go, the other isn’t. Of course, you can also have different-colored bottles. The Splashguard is still a pretty solid way to keep from drinking untreated water.

Let’s take this back to modern times. You know how much you hate the middle seat while flying? Well, one company has a solution to that problem. How likely are you to see this on an airplane anytime soon? I vote "no chance in hell."

There are so many great ideas out there – like scramble crosswalks and movies that aren’t sequels/prequels/reboots/remakes – that never come into use. Don’t ask me why. It’s just the way of the world. And airlines, especially those based in the United States, take a special pleasure in ignoring any way to make flying better.

That’s all I have for you today. See ya next month!


What Good Are Primitive Living Skills?

primitive living skills
A little post-course goofing off with Cody.

You might think primitive living skills experts like Cody Lundin and his co-instructor Mark Dorsten would have a specific end game in mind when they pass their knowledge to students at the Aboriginal Living Skills School. And you’re absolutely correct.

But the end game isn’t what you might expect. They’re not – repeat, not – aiming to make you live the rest of your life barefoot, using a Paiute deadfall trap to catch rats that you’ll eat to stay alive. Nope. They’ll consider themselves successful if A) whichever course you take makes you better appreciate your modern conveniences and B) makes you better aware of your surroundings.

I can’t speak for the other students who took the primitive living skills course. But for me, I’d say they accomplished their mission. Since experiencing The Provident Primitive course back in August, I see a few differences in myself. Like what? So glad you asked.

Everywhere I Go, I’m Looking at Every Plant

During the work week, I generally walk to lunch. I amble along sidewalks, and take shortcuts through landscaped areas. And I constantly spot plants and think things like "Hey, that would make a great hearth" or "I could make a rabbit stick out of that." My eyes lock onto everything that I could turn into a tinder bundle and every seed pod I could munch on.

English: Food dehydrator Français : Déshydrateur
Food dehydrator: Money well spent. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m even worse when I actually hike. I stop to sample plants I learned about during the course (and make my wife do the same). We left for a hike without any tissues, and she got sneezy. Sure enough, I found some mullein (aka, cowboy toilet paper) and it was problem solved thanks to primitive living skills. Just don’t mention that time she had to pick a prickly pear thorn out of my tongue, OK?

Switching My Food Habits

Since I started mountain biking in the early 90s, "energy bars" (I really hate that label because anything with calories is an "energy" food … it just allows marketing geeks to fool us) have been a staple of my snack arsenal. That’s since changed because of The Provident Primitive: Cody made an off-hand reference to pemmican, the trail food of North American natives.

English: Illustration of a Paiute Deadfall tra...
Look out, rats! I’m comin’ for ya! (taken from U.S. Army Field Manual, No. 21-76, Survival. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I decided to give it a shot. I found a pemmican recipe, bought a food dehydrator and went to town. I’m still experimenting with the right ratios and fat sources. But every batch of pemmican has powered me up and tasted better than carb-based food bars.

The dehydrator also inspired me to try apples and other fruits. Right now, my dehydrator runs more often than it sits idle. If you want to get away from snacking on crap, get a dehydrator. Fill it with organic fruit and look out – you’ll have a lot fewer urges to fork over for stuff with high-fructose corn syrup.

Oh, and jerky – even if you don’t turn it into pemmican, it’s an awesome snack. DIY jerky is far less expensive ($7 for a few ounces versus $8 for 2 pounds of flank steak) and better tasting than the store-bought variety, too. No contest. I also love throwing it in my camping food. It soaks up the water and adds a nice protein punch.

I Like Being Outdoors More Than Ever

So I have some new observational skills, some new food ideas -- this adds up to more fun when I hike or camp. There’s something to be said for better understanding your surroundings. Knowledge shows you possibilities where none existed before.

I’ve also bought a few books about edible plants to find in the region, and look for hikes where there’s running water; the best way to have enough water is to hike/camp where there’s water, and to be sure you have the means to treat it.

I also practice with my fire-making methods every week. I still suck at the hand drill and have yet to start a full fire with it, even though I can make plenty of smoke (UPDATE: Fire achieved 11/28). I’m really hoping to have a breakthrough. But I’m handy with the flint and tinder bundle.