Friday, 15 September 2017

Toothbrushes: Less is More!



The other day I decided it was time to replace my toothbrush. Money is really tight at the moment (Please buy some books!) so the only choice was the nearest poundstore. As it turned out, this store was only stocking children’s toothbrushes on that day. On the upside, I got a pack of five for a pound!

A few days later I get around to opening the packet and selecting a new brush. The handle was noticeably shorter, but not to any detrimental extent. What was a surprise was how much better this brush seemed to clean my teeth. The smaller head means that the brush has more room between the lips and gumline and can reach all the way back to around my back teeth.
In retrospect, this makes sense. Generally the finer the job you want to do the smaller the brush you use. The smaller brushhead of the kiddy’s brush lets me reach a greater area of my teeth for a better clean. It also uses less toothpaste!

I know some of you “ounce-counters” out there cut down toothbrush handles to save bulk and weight. Consider going the full hog and switch to a children’s brush. You will find not only are they lighter and cheaper (less tax!)  but actually more efficient.

         If you have enjoyed this article or it has been helpful to you please feel free to show your appreciation. Thank you.

The Books

http://www.angelfire.com/art/enchanter/epsdbook.html 


http://www.lulu.com/shop/http://www.lulu.com/shop/phil-west/survival-weapons-optimizing-your-arsenal/paperback/product-21488758.html


http://www.lulu.com/shop/phil-west/crash-combat/paperback/product-22603842.html



Sunday, 27 August 2017

Sleeping Bags for Hostelling.

A few weeks back I got talking about my experiences of youth hostelling when younger. I didn’t get into this until I was in my early twenties so was often the “old man” of a dorm. That said, I often struck up enjoyable liaisons with some of my fellow travellers. Some of these only lasted a couple of days until our paths parted, others were friendships that remained active for many years.

I was asked to write a little on the blog about my experiences and conclusions. One of the first topics I was asked about was sleeping bags for hostelling.

Do you really need a sleeping bag for hostelling I was asked? My answer would be yes. While many hostels provide some bedding there are many that do not. It depends where you are in the world and whether it is an official IYH hostel or not. I will note that some of my most memorable experiences have been at “unofficals”, although by no means should you avoid the official places. There have been some fun times in those too. Another reason for having your own bedding is that there will be times when you want to travel overnight by train or bus, saving yourself the price of a room for the night.

This is not going to be a generic article on selecting sleeping bags. I will save that for another day if there is interest.
 
The most common mistake when buying your first bag is magnumitis!

A common mistake when buying a bag is to buy one that is too warm. Look around any hostel and you'll see several roommates with legs draped out of too hot five-season expedition bags. I did exactly the same when I brought my first bag. I still have that bag but now reserve it for outdoor use or buildings that I know will be insufficiently heated. In truth, I have seldom used it. Use your hard saved money for a more practical purchase.

I soon invested in a one-season sleeping bag that folds up to the size of a rugby ball without the need for compression straps. My bag of choice was a Merlin Softie, which I am happy to say are still in production. There are several variants available now. There are lengthened versions for the very tall. A tactical version has a reinforced lower for users that might need to sleep in their boots. (Put sandbags over them first!). Looks like the modern versions do have compression straps, probably because users expect them. My original stuffsac neither had or needed them.
 
My Merlin Softie has been all around the world with me and is still good to go. I have used it for both hostelling and camping.

I prefer bags with two-way zips for hostelling and similar travels. They provide better ventilation and are easier to get into in a dark dorm room. Some designs can also be zipped together, if your bag has a right hand zip and your loved one's a left.

The compact size allows me to carry a very small pack, with plenty of room for everything else. The larger bags often take up most of your rucksac volume or become large unwieldy lumps lashed to the outside.

Should conditions be colder than expected, I can always add more insulation in the form of clothing or blankets. Taking insulation out of a heavier bag would not be possible. Conceivably I could use my lower performance bag inside another bag. I suppose if I had my time again I'd buy a one or two season bag and a two or three season and have a really versatile system for all conditions. I have a lightweight down bag that might work well with the Merlin but I cannot recall any instances where I was cold in that bag. Bear in mind that many of your travels will be to warm places in summer and you will see that such a bag is more than adequate. You’ll spend a third of your time on holiday sleeping so a good bag is a good investment.

 
Many hostels will provide blankets but expect the guest to provide a sleeping bag liner. A sleeping bag liner is basically a sheet sewn into a bag-shape to keep the bedclothes clean. Some hostels may also have sheets or bags for hire.
    
For a long time I carried a simple, easily washable cotton sheet bag, both for hostel bedding and to protect my own sleeping bags. One morning in a German hostel it disappeared from my bed! The maid had mistaken it for one of the hostel’s sheets and sent it on to the laundry. This was my last morning before moving on to Holland so there was no way my bag would be returned to me in time. The hostel owner was most embarrassed by this and gave me a set of sheets as a replacement. Once I'd returned home I set about sewing these sheets into a replacement liner, with two modifications:
  •  One was to sew the sheets into a mummy shape to match the shape of my sleeping bag.
  • The other was to sew round the opening several pieces of brightly coloured material. This was partially to make my bag instantly recognisable to prevent the same happening again, and also so that I could locate the opening of the bag by touch, saving me from using a light and disturbing my roommates.
Although quite reasonably priced, liners can be very easily made, and there's no reason why they have to be white. Make them from something you can recognise in an instant and line the neck with something that feels different and identifies it further. Some of you may consider a piece of lace. I’m still using my homemade liner. Nowadays you can find pile liners to make your bag warmer. There are also silk liners and pertex ones, which have tempted me but I have yet to try.
If you are a restless sleeper who often gets tangled up in their bed clothes you can make or modify your liner so it has separate legs.

If you have enjoyed this article or it has been helpful to you please feel free to show your appreciation. Thank you.
The Books

http://www.angelfire.com/art/enchanter/epsdbook.html 


http://www.lulu.com/shop/http://www.lulu.com/shop/phil-west/survival-weapons-optimizing-your-arsenal/paperback/product-21488758.html


http://www.lulu.com/shop/phil-west/crash-combat/paperback/product-22603842.html




Sunday, 20 August 2017

Simple Effective Personal Camouflage.

For a long time I have advocated the use of camouflaged smocks. Surprisingly it is hard to get the idea that camouflage should be worn over the armour into some heads!
In a previous blog post I discussed the idea of camouflaged aprons or tabards. While I like the simplicity of this approach I feel it still has a way to go. Some of the illustrated examples are overly long and have too rectangular and regular a shape. Most obviously they do little to camouflage the distinctive arm and shoulder region.
Recently I was having a conversation and recalled this:



Several of the rebel characters on Endor wear these ponchos. Since it is not raining they seem to be primarily for camouflage. Leia’s, at least, seems to be rigged so that it is relatively short at the front, providing freedom of movement.
In his book mentioned in the previous post Langdon-Davies notes that the sniper suit (and personal camouflage in general) is:
“to destroy your human shape, as well as your human features. It is therefore cut as unlike a Savile Row tailor’s suit as possible”
and that “For many purposes the sniper’s suit may be though too clumsy and readers are advised to experiment by making hoods of a larger size reaching to the waist. These can easily be taken off when the moment comes to run, and they do not in any case impede the movements of the legs”
A poncho is very good at concealing the shape of the human body. In previous posts I have discussed ponchos and shelter cloths as rainwear and I have discussed ponchos, blankets and cloaks as cold weather wear. Suppose we merge the idea of the camouflage apron and poncho to create a garment intended for camouflage rather than warmth or rain protection.
What I suggest is something roughly hexagonal in shape, folded across two opposite points. Its width would be about an arm span as measured between the elbows. This would be half an wearers height by Vitruvian proportions. At the front and back it would be about mid-thigh length to provide freedom of movement. Using the Roman tunica as an illustration, the camo-poncho would not be as long and would taper towards the lower edges. The sides would not be seamed. One of my reasons for mentioning the tunica is that like this garment the poncho would most likely be clinched, the equipment belt or webbing securing the flaps. Tapes or cords can be added for when a belt is not worn. The sides below the belt would not be joined for better freedom of movement when crawling or climbing.

Being a very simple garment it is more practical to make the camo-poncho double-sided. One side could have a verdant pattern and the other a more brown and tan pattern suited to semi-arid, autumnal and many urban environments. Another version would have a desert pattern on one side and a semi-arid pattern on the other. Another variant would have pure white on one side and a pattern for broken snow on the other.
The camo-poncho (smocklet?) would use a contrasting macro-pattern that breaks up its shape. There is little point trying this concept with some of the multi-coloured patterns currently in vogue that blob-out to a single monocolour. In the pattern below individual polygons should be about three or four inches across.

The double-sided camo-poncho could be created by simply sewing two differently patterned sheets together. A hexagonal shape can easily be made from rectangles and rectangles cut diagonally. The hem would be made several inches from the edge and the cloth outside allowed to fray. It might even be cut into tassels like a buckskin shirt. The frayed edges and tassels further break up the recognizable shape and assist in the garment drying when wet.
Since the camo-poncho is unlikely to see a parade ground we can add some patches of cloth, hessian and netting to make it three-dimensional, as was discussed for headgear. The poncho could work in conjunction with other ideas such as the soldier’s mantle.
 
Just to be clear. The camo-poncho is not intended to replace the rain poncho or poncho-liner. The soldier would also carry these items and use them when needed. They are vital components of his lightweight sleeping system. The camo-poncho is not intended to act as a shelter or provide warmth. One of its advantages is that air easily circulates under it, which will be welcome in hot climates. The camo-poncho is designed to provide the wearer with concealment. Warm clothing, including a poncho-liner, can be worn under it if the climate warrants. The camo-poncho can be worn over a waterproof jacket or rain poncho, providing camouflage and snag-protection and also muffling the noise of these materials.
Hunters, wildlife photographers and the like should feel free to try this concept out. It requires minimal sewing skills and is likely to be far superior to more expensive, tailored options.

        If you have enjoyed this article or it has been helpful to you please feel free to show your appreciation. Thank you.

The Books

http://www.angelfire.com/art/enchanter/epsdbook.html 


http://www.lulu.com/shop/http://www.lulu.com/shop/phil-west/survival-weapons-optimizing-your-arsenal/paperback/product-21488758.html


http://www.lulu.com/shop/phil-west/crash-combat/paperback/product-22603842.html



Friday, 18 August 2017

Langdon-Davies Home Guard Camouflage Suit.

As I have already pointed out, I am getting old and my faculties are declining. Every now and then I look back for an article I have written to refer to and discover I have never posted it.

During the discussion of camouflage I referred to “The Home Guard Fieldcraft Manual” by Maj John Langdon-Davies. Despite its age this is a book I would recommend to anyone remotely interested in camouflage or not getting shot.

One of the most memorable parts of the book is Langdon-Davies’ instructions on how to create a “sniper suit” from open weave hessian. Don’t get too hung up on the “sniper” label. Langdon-Davies consider camouflage to be a skill that all soldiers should be adept at and comments that “twenty rifle rounds at 25 yards will be far more effective that fifty at 250 yards”. If further proof were needed, note that one of the photos below shows a camouflaged sub-machine gunner.


 
The basic garment is a loose fitting smock. Its construction is not unlike some of the Roman tunics I discussed in a previous blog. The seams are some distance in from the edge of the sleeves and sides and these parts are deliberately irregular. These would be permitted to fray to further break up the shape. The garment was to be worn over the woollen battledress and webbing equipment. A flapped opening was provided for accessing the pouches and pockets within.
 
The hood illustrated is a separate piece. For vision alternate threads are picked out to create a “slot”. Langdon-Davies cautions against distinctive paired eyeholes. He provides some examples from nature of animals disguising their distinctive eyes with band-like markings.
The book also suggests an alternate design that resembles a short poncho with an integral hood. He describes this as a waist-length hood with arm openings. Obviously a poncho with a separate hood is possible too.


One of the advantages of using hessian is that it has a light, natural colour to begin with. This forms a good base on which to paint contrasting colours, giving good disruption of the human shape. One interesting suggestion Langdon-Davies makes is that the front and back of the garment might have different patterns. The camouflage needs of a kneeling man viewed from the front may be different from those of a prone man viewed from above. Camouflage should be thought of as 3D rather than being two-dimensional patterns. Additional patches of frayed hessian or cloth can be added to the garment, as can pieces of netting that allow the utilization of natural materials.

        If you have enjoyed this article or it has been helpful to you please feel free to show your appreciation. Thank you.

The Books

http://www.angelfire.com/art/enchanter/epsdbook.html 

http://www.lulu.com/shop/http://www.lulu.com/shop/phil-west/survival-weapons-optimizing-your-arsenal/paperback/product-21488758.html

http://www.lulu.com/shop/phil-west/crash-combat/paperback/product-22603842.html