Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Scott Expedition – Retracing the Steps of a Legend

Most of us are well familiar with the ill fated expedition lead by the British Captain, Robert Falcon Scott. In 1911-1912, Scott and his men made a journey to the South Pole, only to perish on the return trip, freezing to death, short of food and fuel, only miles away from their storage depot. While Roald Amundsen managed to claim the South Pole for Norway only weeks before Scott managed to reach it, using a different route and dog pulled sledges, Scott gained significant fame, in large part due to the tragic end of his expedition.


This year, a two man team is attempting to retrace Scott’s steps. British adventurers Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere are setting out on an expedition to Antarctica, attempting to follow the route to the South pole taken by Scott and his men. They will attempt to do it unsupported. Their journey began several days ago, and seems to be progressing. You can follow the team here.


It appears that the plan is to retrace the actual Scott expedition to the South Pole and back. Just like Scott, they will depot food on their way to the pole, and then retrieve it on their way back. Unlike Scott, they will be using modern equipment, and will have only a two man team, unlike Scott’s expedition style approach. They will also lack horses and motorized sleds which Scott used in the early stages of the expedition.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Viviana Peretti | Camargue Gypsy Pilgrimage

Photo © Viviana Peretti-All Rights Reserved
I sometimes discover a photographer's work that is so interesting that I hurry to post about it as soon as possible, upending the predetermined order of future posts on my blog.

The work of Viviana Peretti is one of those.

So I'm glad to feature Viviana's Gypsy Pilgrimage in La Camargue which she covered so well using her iPhone and the Hispstamatic's Tintype Tinto 1884 lens and the D-Type film pack...which is by far my favorite.

The Gypsy Pilgrimage celebrate the saints Mary-Jacobé and Mary-Salomé, and it is held in Saintes Maries de la Mer, a small village in the heart of the Camargue, South of France. The legend is that a boat landed near the village's site from Palestine, carrying Mary Magdalene, Marie-Jacobé, and Salomé, as well as Lazarus. With them was Sara, whose identity is unclear. There are some who believe that she was the daughter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ...while others believe she was the personal maid of Marie-Jacobé. As the only dark-skinned woman on the boat, she was embraced by the Romani as their patron saint.

Romani (aka gypsies) from the region carry the the saints' effigies in a long procession to the beach to be blessed in the sea. The procession is not only made of Romani, but of the region's Arlesiennes in their distinctive costume, as well are the Gardians (Camargue's cowboys) and pilgrims.

This ritual's concept reminds me of the Hindu Durga Puja and the Balinese odalan, where effigies are carried to the river or sea to be blessed.

Viviana Peretti is an Italian freelance photographer currently based in Europe. After earning a BA in Anthropology from the University of Rome, she moved to Colombia where she specialized in photojournalism and worked as a freelance photographer for 9 years. In 2010, she graduated in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism from the International Center of Photography, and worked in NYC as a freelance photographer until her recent move to Europe.

She received fellowships and awards from the International Center of Photography, the Joannie M. Chen Fund in New York, the University of Salamanca, the Spanish Embassy in Colombia, the Photo Museum in Bogotá, and the Colombian Ministry of Culture. In 2010, she was selected for the Eddie Adams Workshop (Barnstorm XXIII), and has been published in a number of international newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, the New York Magazine, BBC, CNN, Le Journal de la Photographie and L'Espresso.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Boozy Bread and Butter Pudding

I'm back from my annual holiday - I've missed National Baking Week and National Chocolate Week. No worries, I'm here to support National Bread and Butter Pudding Week......

My husband loves bread and butter pudding - there must be at least five other recipes on my blog!

Bread and Butter Pudding is one of our Great British puddings and there are many, many variations. This pudding has a thin layer of brandy soaked sultanas scattered over the base of the dish.  Unlike the majority of bread and butter puddings there is only a small amount of bread and lots of custard.

You will need: 50g sultanas soaked in a tablespoon of Brandy, 2 slices of white farmhouse bread, softened butter, 3 eggs, 50g caster sugar, ½ tsp vanilla extract or a vanilla pod, 0.5 litres milk.

Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Grease an ovenproof dish.

1. Soak the sultanas in the brandy. Butter the bread, remove the crusts and cut into triangles. Scatter the sultanas over the base of the dish. Arrange the bread in overlapping slices in the dish.
2. Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together. In a small pan warm the milk and pour onto the eggs whilst whisking.
3. Pour the egg mixture through a fine sieve onto the bread.
4. Take a roasting tray and fill half way with hot water, place the dish onto the tray and cook for 45 minutes or until cooked.
5. Dust with icing sugar and carefully caramelise with a blow torch.

Jimmy Nelson | Dying Tribal Life

Photo © Jimmy Nelson-All Rights Reserved
"I found a Dutch billionaire, Marcel Boekhoorn, a philanthropist who is in a position to reinvest his wealth, and he took this project on. The initial amount he committed was 400,000 euros." - Jimmy Nelson
I featured the work of Jimmy Nelson on my blog a few months ago, and it appears that a number of wide circulation newspapers such as The New York Times and the UK's Daily Mail have recently devoted intensive articles about the photographer and his book Before They Pass Away.

My initial post elicited a number of email comments as well as on my Facebook page; some very positive and complimentary as mine were, but others thought he had exploited the tribes he visited and photographed, and was making money by selling his book.

By the way, the price for the special exclusive collectors' book is around $8000. A more modest version exists and is priced at $142.

My personal viewpoint is that Mr Nelson has devoted a significant portion of his life traveling in difficult conditions, schlepping an archaic (and heavy) studio camera, to visit 35 of the world’s least known and most imperiled tribal peoples...and returned with magnificent photographs for us to enjoy and wonder at. can't judge how Mr Nelson worked in the field, and whether he was respectful or not...although from his images and the articles, it does appear he achieved a relationship with his subjects. In my view therefore, there's no question that he's deserving of the tangible and intangible rewards he may receive from his work. 

I've read both newspapers' articles, and my jaw dropped when I read that a Dutch philanthropist had funded the Before They Pass Away project to the tune of over $500,000. I was also amazed at the number of press and blog reviews...even my own post on The Travel Photographer blog is listed.

Most assuredly, this is the work of a powerful PR machinery. I don't think I've ever known such a large amount of press coverage for a book of that kind. Naturally, I've also never heard of a photographer being able to have such enormous funding from a private individual...philanthropist or not.

Contrary to naysayers, I'm thrilled that Jimmy Nelson's work has found such an enthusiastic support. It's probably too early to say if the book sales are taking off...but I hope they do.

Perhaps a little Pollyanna-ish, but Mr Nelson's view that his book is primarily a commercial project and not a political statement, and that he hopes it creates a greater awareness of the beauty and individuality of the tribes and foment a positive dialogue between them and the modern world is one that should be applauded.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cheers to the Best of Britannia

               The Wild Game Co won the Young British Foodies Street Food Award for 2012-13
                                                             Kamm & Sons - Ginseng Spirits

Did anyone manage to get to Best of Britannia recently? If not, then here is the low down, especially for you. Tucked into an exposed brick East End warehouse, this was a showcase of British products and an opportunity to hear the stories of some of the more fashionable brands out there.

Amongst the sea of tweed jackets, hip bicycles and vintage light shades were a healthy representation of the latest independent traders of British food and drink. Nyetimber were present selling some of their finest English sparkling wines and in the outside area you could catch a band whilst munching on a lobster roll from Bob's Lobster.

Bob's Lobster
Harry Brompton's London Ice Tea
Something which did catch my eye was Harry Brompton’s London Ice Tea. Made from Kenyan tea with a hint of citrus, this lightly sparkling drink at 4% ABV was certainly a first for me. Although I found the combination a little perplexing before I tried it - it worked beautifully! The drink reminded me slightly of dandelion and burdock and smacked of summer in a bottle.

This drink has been positioned as a premium product and with the more discerning tastes we’re seeing in tea currently (check out Good & Proper Tea as an example), this could well be a drink which will tip next year.

Keeping on the theme of tea check out Comins Tea House who not only source tea but make an amazing range of tea ware including storage tins and tea caddy spoons – ideal Christmas gifts.

A range of tea caddy spoons from Comins Tea House

Posting courtesy of Kitchen Delights London Reporter @PaulFoodie

The Importance of Breathability of Clothing in Cold Weather

Breathability is a very important aspect of clothing designed for the woods. Working and traveling through the woods is an energy consuming activity, which produces a lot of perspiration. A breathable material is one which allows that moisture, accumulating on top of the skin, to pass through the clothing and out into the surrounding air.

Many fabrics such as Goretex, eVent, and even older materials like oiled canvas and Ventile strive to balance the ability to be breathable, i.e. allow moisture produced by the body to pass through, with being waterproof, i.e. preventing rain from getting into the clothing from the outside. Each material does that with a varying degree of success. Some end up being more breathable, others more waterproof.

It is said by many that in cold weather, a material being waterproof, is not particularly important, as there is no rain to worry about. The colder the weather, the drier the snow, and the less likely it is to melt and get your clothing wet from the outside. As a result, breathability is prioritized when it comes to cold weather clothing. The image that is often presented and that comes to mind most often is a clothing system comprised of different insulation layers covered by a canvas anorak, resembling the clothing of Scott and Nansen.


The theory goes that since there is no moisture on the outside which can get your clothing wet, and all of the moisture which is produced by your body can pass freely through all of the layers of the clothing system, the clothing will stay dry, and consequently maintain its insulation. Speaking in general terms, all of this is correct. However, I would like to put forward some issues which I believe significantly complicate this thinking, and has lead me to the conclusion that breathability in cold weather clothing, while being a good thing, is overrated.

The issue which I have encountered, and I am certainly not the first to note it, is that when the temperature differential between the human body on one side of the insulation and the outside temperature on the other side of the insulation is significant, water vapor produced by the skin will not actually pass through the full clothing system, but will rather condense and then freeze within the insulation before it can escape.

Your body produces moisture. The heat from your body then pushes it out, usually in the form of vapor through the clothing. Under warm conditions, the process will continue until the vapor passes through all of the clothing and out into the surrounding air. That is why it is beneficial to have a shell layer which will allow the moisture to pass rather than trapping it just before it can reach the air surrounding the clothing. If the temperature outside is low however, the heat from the body will not be sufficient to push the moisture all the way out. Somewhere along the way, the water vapor will cool down enough to condense into liquid water, and then altogether freeze, while still within the insulation.

Imagine that the temperature right next to your body is 98.6 F. Also imagine that the outside temperature is 0 F. Since no insulation is 100% thermally efficient, somewhere within the insulation, between the 98.6 F right next to the body and the 0 F outside, the temperature will reach 32 F, the freezing point of water. When the moisture traveling outward from your body reaches that point, it will start to freeze.


The frozen or condensed moisture then starts to accumulate within the insulation, further decreasing its effectiveness. All of this occurs before the moisture ever reaches the shell layer.

The result is that all insulation, no matter how breathable the system, will accumulate moisture within the insulation when the outside temperature is cold enough. No matter the material, you will have to find a way to remove that moisture.


In the above picture you can see the effects of such freezing, happening in temperatures around 25 F. What you see in not snow on top of the jacket, but rather ice formed inside that is protruding through the shell material. It is in effect imbedded ice within the material.

This phenomenon is well known to people who travel in cold weather. On arctic expeditions, very often two sleeping bags are carried and layered. After some use, the top bag will become saturates with moisture and become a block of ice, at which point it is discarded.

All of this occurs not because of lack of breathability, but because the dew point (the temperature at which a particular density of water vapor condenses into a liquid) occurs within the insulation layers because of the temperature differential between the inside and the outside of the insulation.

An interesting side note is that if this wasn’t the case, and the insulation maintained the same temperature throughout, allowing for the water vapor to move through the full clothing system, the exiting vapor would be warm enough to melt the snow surrounding the person, and in turn requiring a waterproof layer to be worn. 

The breathability of fabrics is often held as a solution to the water management issue in cold weather. In my experience, for the reasons I have outlined above, I don’t believe that to be the case. No matter how breathable your shell layer, whether it be made from Gore-Tex, cotton, or mesh netting, the moisture from your body will accumulate within the insulation. Your clothing has to be dried out using an external heat source, or it will lose efficiency.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

POV: Sadhus, Charlatans or Not?

Photos © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Yesterday's post prompts me to elaborate a bit more on the question whether the sadhus in India (and Nepal) are charlatans or a genuine aesthetics.

From my numerous travels in India over the past 10+ years, and from having met innumerable sadhus during my assignments and photographic expeditions, I'm reasonably comfortable in asserting that most of them are a cross between homeless charlatans and spiritual ascetics. The more difficult question is whether they became ascetics because of poverty or because of some form of inherent spirituality. Charlatanism is an integral part of many of them, but they may have resorted to this activity because of need.

With their tilak markings, and their orange cloths, they are certainly photogenic and some of them exploit their appearance to coax money from gullible (and sometimes, not-so-gullible) tourists. Others are more imaginative, and develop an aura of spirituality to generate religious respect and alms from lay people.

Naturally, there are a large number of sadhus who are authentic. For instance, the Naga Babas, whose ceremonial bathing at the Kumbh Melas is a sought after ceremony, belong to the Shaiva sect and are known as 'warrior ascetics'.

In 2006, I've come across authentic sadhus during an assignment in Varanasi. My fixer was from this ancient city, and knew it inside out. Upon learning that I was interested in sadhus, and seeing my disinterest in photographing the "tourist" sadhus basking in the sun on the ghats of Varanasi, he took me to a number of out-of-the-way ashrams for sadhus.

It's there that I met elderly sadhus, living in nothing more than cubicle-like tiny rooms and subsisting on small bowls of dahl and rice. These were true ascetics, who spent their days reading Hindu sacred scriptures, meditating and avoiding contact with lay people as much as possible.

I recall one of them had come to Varanasi because it was where he'd be eventually cremated and cast in the Ganges, thus achieving moksha. That in itself is not unusual, but what was unusual was his background.

He had spent his whole career with the Indian Railways (the largest employer in India), and upon his retirement he chose to become an ascetic, and left his family with their full consent, leaving all his worldly possession and his pension. He came to his ashram, and started to study herbal medicinal plants. Eventually, patients came to seek his advice, and the word spread amongst the poor in Varanasi that he was a healer. He dispensed his advice for free, and occasionally accepted some food as payment for his services.

During my visits to these ashrams, I was never asked for money...no one offered me ganja...and no one asked to pose for my cameras...and certainly no one spoke English. One of the sadhus (the one reading a scripture) never even looked up to acknowledge me as I was photographing him.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Avenza PDF Maps – Backwoods Navigation for Your Smart Phone

PDF Maps as a mobile phone/device application made by Avenza. It allows you to use your phone to pull up and navigate different maps when in the woods. Now, I know that this is nothing new. You can certainly pull up maps on your phone, or even get a satellite view of your location. What makes PDF Maps different, and I think worth mentioning, is that you can load up familiar trail or backwoods maps that many of us already use, and then pinpoint your exact location on them even without internet or phone service.

The Avenza PDF Maps app is available for iOS and Android platforms, and can be downloaded for free from the Apple Store or Google Play. Once the app is downloaded, you can purchase (or in some cases get for free) maps from the Avenza Map Store.


Once you have purchased the map, it will appear on the start screen, and you can select to view it. Again, the great part of all this is that you can get familiar maps that you have been using before. For example, in the above picture I have downloaded one of the section maps produced by the NY-NJ Trail Conference. I use their map sets all the time, and on the app I can get them in the exact configuration I have in hard copy. You can search maps by producer, area, etc.

In the picture below I have selected the NY-NJ Trails-113 map from the above picture, and you can see it opened.


Once you have opened the map, you can zoom in to view the desired details.


Since this is a NY-NJ Trail Conference Map, it shows all of the trail as well as topographic features. The app will show your location on the map using the phone’s GPS receiver, even if there is no other phone or internet connection. You can also see that the app displays the GPS coordinates of the location where the cross hairs on the middle of the screen are located. You can move them find the GPS coordinates at any point on the map.

There are many other features, such as importing and exporting way points. You can also upload your own maps, although if they are not set up with integrated GPS coordinates, you will not be able to track your location on them.

Anyway, I just wanted to bring the app to your attention. Hopefully development continues, and we can get even more great features out of it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Alexis Pazoumian | Sadhu Hundred

©Alexis Pazoumian-All Rights Reserved

Sadhus...depending on your point of view or experience, they can be spiritual ascetics, devout mystics, philosophic vagabonds, or homeless charlatans. I can say that many of the sadhus I've encountered (and I have met a lot during my countless travels in India) are a bit of all these descriptions, but most are charlatans, preying on the generosity, spirituality and superstition of lay people...many of whom are equally poor. That said, they are photogenic and they know it.

It is estimated there are 4 to 5 million sadhus in India, and these belong to two main sects: the Shaiva sadhus, who are ascetics devoted to Shiva, and Vaishnava sadhus, who are renouncers devoted to Vishnu (including Rama and Krishna). Although some sub sects have properties that generate revenue to sustain members, most sadhus rely on donations, and poverty and hunger are realities for many sadhus.

Alexis Pazoumian's Sadhu Hundred is a photo gallery of sadhu portraits; some of which were photographed at the Pashupatinath Temple located on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu. It's one of the most significant Hindu temples of Shiva in the world.

You'll note the sadhus following Shiva wear a tilak of three horizontal lines across the forehead, while the tilak of Vaishnava sadhus usually include two or more vertical lines resembling the letter U, which symbolizes Vishnu's foot.

Alexis Pazoumaian is a photographer in France who, after completing a two-year course in a graphics school, turned to photography. He spent six months documenting and living in one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas,  and was finalist in a contest by “Paris Match” for photojournalism students.

His clients include Agence Elan, Premicefilms, Elie Saab, Maje, Hilldale production, Toshiba, Caviar Agency, We love Art, Monsieur White, Société Général, Maison Sauvage, Grand Palais, Groupe Vendôme, and Agence moderne. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Javad Tizmaghz | Tajen

Photo © Javad Tizmaghz-All Rights Reserved

It's been a while I haven't featured the work of a photojournalist, and here's the work of Javad Tizmaghz, an Iranian photographer specializing in documentary photography, and currently based in Malaysia. His work was published in a number of publications, including the Guardian. He is also an alum of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2011 which was held in Chiang Mai.

I was attracted to Javad's photo story on the cock fighting in Indonesia, and chose the above photograph for this post because of the similarity in man's eyes and that of his rooster...and to me, this made the picture.

Javad's Tajen documents the Balinese tradition of cockfighting (which is known locally as Tajen) is mixed with religious rituals. Cockfights, while technically illegal, are required at temple and purification ceremonies. The local police is loath to prevent such bouts since the prevailing belief is that these are protected by the deities of the temples. There are ancient texts proving that the cockfighting ritual has existed for centuries, so Balinese police can legitimately look the other way.

 I have featured a number of cockfighting photo essays on my blog, including my own. It's usually a male-only spectator/participant kind of venue, and when I walked in the site during one of the fights, followed by a number of female photographers who were in my photo workshop group, there was a noticeable silence amongst the crowd.  However, the excitement of the bouts soon seduced the onlookers back to the action, and away from us.

Cockfighting is common in South and South East Asia; and is a gambling event in countries such as The Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia (Bali), Southern India and even Japan. 

Lost Survivors with Myke Hawke and Ruth England Premiers November 12, 2013 at 11PM on The Travel Channel

There is finally a release date for Myke and Ruth’s new show, Lost Survivors. You probably remember Myke and Ruth from their previous survival show, Man, Woman, Wild. Well, their new show premiers Tuesday November 12, 2013 at 11PM on The Travel Channel.


From The Travel Channel: Mykel Hawke and Ruth England-Hawke, the reigning king and queen of survival, are facing their biggest challenge yet…and they have no way to prepare for it.  In LOST SURVIVORS this married couple is blindly dropped in an undisclosed location, and forced to use their survival knowledge to identify where they are, and how to get back to civilization.  With minimal supplies and only a few precious clues, the Hawkes put their skills and relationship to the ultimate test as they rely on expertise, instinct and the strength of each other to climb, crawl and claw their way through forbidding landscapes.

The concept looks interesting, and very similar to Man, Woman, Wild, which I enjoyed a lot. I look forward to seeing both of them back on TV.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mustafa Dedeoğlu | Istanbul

Photo © Mustafa Dedeoğlu-All Rights Reserved

In 1807, Napoleon would exclaim "Constantinople, Constantinople! C'est I'empire du monde!"

When I started photography in earnest some 12 years ago,  my first solo destination was Istanbul. I was attracted to its traditional architecture, its people, its food, its culture and above all its history. After all, my country of birth was part of the Ottoman Empire and there are many similarities between them.

Since that first trip, I went back twice...and the latest was during the 2010 Foundry Photojournalism Workshop where I taught a class on Multimedia. It was like seeing an old friend after a few years of absence. I ate hamsi (whenever I could find them), sardines, kunefe, then drank Efes, rode the ferry and the tram, and dropped by the Grand Bazaar. I could go on and on....

With the memories of Istanbul in mind, I feature the photographic work of Mustafa Dedeoğlu, who photographed his wonderful city, mostly in monochrome.

I also liked Mustafa's work on Anatolia, with many strong portraits, also in monochrome.

Mustafa started taking photos a few years ago ago, and is largely self-taught.  He uses the Nikons d700 and d800 cameras, and prefers wide angle lenses such as the Nikon 14-24 mm. He also used Nix Software's Silver Efex for black and white conversions. In common with many street photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson is his insipiration.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Trip Report: Stewart Forest Pheasant Hunt 10/13/13

I know I have been posting quite a bit about my hunting trips lately, and those of you who don’t hunt are probably bored. Not to worry. I have a backpacking trip planned for the end of the month. It’s just that now that different hunting seasons are opening, I have been getting out a lot more often for short hunting trips. This time around, I finally got to go pheasant hunting. My friend Rich loves it, and he agreed to take me with him. His dog Roxy, a Brittany Spaniel, was equally excited.

For this hunt we went to Stewart Forest, here in New York State. For those of you in the area, I’ll go over some of the specifics, because as I promised when I first started writing about hunting, I’ll try to share what I learn along the way in case anyone else is following the same path.

Stewart Forest functions much like a regular state park during most of the year, with trails, camping etc. During hunting season however, special regulations kick in. The park gives special access to hunters, and at times is closed to other visitors. In order to regulate the number of hunters in the forest at any time, the park has a limited number of parking spots for hunters. They are not actual parking areas, just flat places to pull off the road, but for each such spot (there are about 80), only one car can park at a time, and I think only 3 or 4 people are allowed in each car. Once you park, you can only hunt the area on the side of the road where you are parked. This prevent overcrowding in any one particular part of the park. Here is what the DEC hunting map looks like:

Stewart Forest Map

The places marked with a P with a number next to it are the areas where you can pull over when you are hunting. In case you are interested, if you want to deer hunt in this forest, you have to get a special permit (you just have to apply for it), and it is shotgun only, so get your slug gun ready.

Stewart Forest is one of the few places in the area that has relatively flat and open grass lands. That allows for good pheasant hunting, which the park stocks each season. In order to get a good spot, Rich and I drove up to the park on Saturday night. Access for hunting opens in the morning, so we parked and waited at the gates through the night. There were less people than we expected. The night got pretty cold. Sunrise was at 7:06am, so got up at 5:30am and got ready.


As soon as we had enough light, we started with a small field close to the road. Roxy immediately went to work.

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We weren’t able to flush anything out, so we moved to a larger field further south.


Rich is a good friend, so he let me take point. He had already bagged two pheasants on opening day, so on this trip he was mostly amusing me.

Copy of 033

Roxy quickly flushed out a hen. I fired but missed. We continued up a hill, and after some chasing, flushed out a second hen. I again fired, and missed. I fired a second shot, while at the same time Rich fired. I missed again, but Rich got it.

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To my great embarrassment, I missed a third shot when we flushed out a rooster later in the day. It was getting a bit pathetic. I’ve been shooting some trap lately to improve my accuracy with the shotgun, but the excitement of hearing a bird take off, was turning everything upside down. We decided to stop for lunch, and resume later.

In the afternoon we moved further north to a different field. This one had shorter grass, which I was happy about. The tall grass at our previous location was filled with thorn bushes, which were tearing up my legs. We started following Roxy, until we reached a patch of thick bushes. I circled right, and Rich went left. As we were near the far side of the bushes, Roxy caught the scent of a bird, and pointed. Rich told me to get ready, but I couldn’t see Roxy from my position. Just then a hen flushed out. Both Rich and I took a shot. The bird went down. Rich was sure that we both hit it, although in the excitement I didn’t notice anything other than that it went down. A later autopsy confirmed that we both hit it. I was using number 6 shot, while Rich was using 7 1/2, so it was easy to see where each of us hit. Rich was nice enough to pretend like I got this one.

Copy of 044 

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I hadn’t really planned on how I would carry the bird out, but the floating pocked on my backpack worked well. We decided we were done for the day and headed out.

Copy of 055

Rich showed me how to quickly field dress the pheasants, a necessary chore for the benefit of my girlfriend. Then we were off.

For what it’s worth, I was using my CZ Upland Sterling O/U 12 gauge with modified and improved modified chokes for the hunt with Federal number 6 shot, 1 1/4 oz loads. Rich was using a Winchester semi auto 12 gauge with number 7 1/2 shot. It made no difference. He is a good shot, and I am not. The rest is just for show.

Not that it matters on this trip, but here is the GPS recording of the hunt.


The red box on the map below of Stewart Forest shows the location of the above screen shot with the GPS track.

Stewart Map

It was a great day, and lots of fun, despite my humiliatingly poor performance with the shotgun. I guess it is back to the trap field for me. Much thanks to Rich and Roxy for putting up with me and showing me the ropes.

Monday, October 14, 2013

POV: DxO Film Pack 3 & Color Efex Pro 4

All Photos © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I admit it...sheepishly perhaps, but I really do.

I've mellowed and moved away from my earlier resistance to experiment with what I call funky experimentation on my photographs. I was an unwavering believer in "purity" insofar as my photography was concerned, preferring to keep my photographs as untouched as possible.

As recently as a year ago, I would use Photoshop or Lightroom as minimally as possible, barely using their capabilities except for some sharpening and color enhancements. But the availability of specialized post processing software such as DxO Film Pack, Alien Skin Software, and Color Efex Pro 4 encouraged my explorative forays into different creative avenues, and I developed an affinity for the wet plate look (quite obviously influenced by the Hipstamatic Tintype filter)...which in turn led me to try fiddling with some of my photographs using the previously mentioned software, either singly of together. Importantly, these software products are really no-brainers to use, and produce good results.

I'm still a conflicted purist at heart. For example, I'm unwilling to crop my travel photographs but I'm perfectly happy to crop the heck out of a photograph which I shot from the hip during my street photography jaunts in New York City. The fact that I shot an image from the hip gives me the "excuse" to crop it...but not for those I made using a viewfinder. So yes, a conflicted purist...or perhaps a purist who follows his own rules which he makes up as he goes along. Whatever.

This morning, I experimented with using the DxO Film Pack converting the lower photograph to monochrome (using the Kodak T-Max100 preset) and then applying a Sepia Gold toning filter to it. I then added some Structure and Vignetting using Color Efex Pro 4. I showed if off on my Facebook page...some friends liked it, so I used the same "soup" on the top two.

It took me no more than 3 minutes to process each photograph...and I quite like the results. Will it become one of my "signature" looks? I don't think so...I'm just having fun. That's the whole idea.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Subrata Biswas | Chhau, Behind The Mask

Photo © Subrata Biswas-All Rights Reserved

India, black and white* photography, storytelling, cultural-religious tradition....what's not to make my pulse race?

This is about the ancient traditional dance form named Chhau. It's a type of Indian tribal martial dance which is popular in the Indian states of Orissa (now called Odisha), Jharkhand and West Bengal. There are three subgenres of the dance, based on its places of origin and development, and these are Seraikella Chhau, Mayurbhanj Chhau and Purulia Chhau.

The Chhau blends dance and martial practices employing mock combat techniques, stylized gaits of birds and animals and movements based on the chores of village housewives. The dance is performed by male dancers from families of traditional artists or from local communities and is performed at night in an open space.

As is often the case with such traditional dance forms, the future doesn't look bright for the Chhau despite it being inscribed in the UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Fewer young people are interested in joining the art form due to the uncertainty of its financial future.

Behind The Mask is a photo essay by Subrata Biswas, a talented visual storyteller and painter from Kolkata. Despite being an IT software engineer by training, he decided to embrace a life as a self-taught painter/artist and photographer/photojournalist. His paintings have been exhibited in various venues India, while his photographs were published in a number of print and online media.

*I don't know why pure black & white images now automatically appear as sepia on Blogger. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mince Beef and Stilton Mini Pies - Recipe

Fresh from the oven
I'm originally from Stilton Cheese country and these mini pies are a reminder of the shires.

When I made my cottage pie I used just half the meat mixture and with the remainder I made these mini pies. Bought shortcrust was used to make the pies on this occasion - and why not! I made one cottage pie and eight mini pies from just 500g of 10% fat Aberdeen Angus mince beef.

Packed full of flavour

To make 8 mini pies all you need is a 12 cup muffin tin - I used a loose base 12 cup individual mini sandwich tin from Lakeland - removing the pies is much easier than using a normal muffin tin.

1. 500g pack of shortcrust pastry.
2. Spray the tray with oil.
3. Roll out the pastry and with the plain side of a 11cm cutter stamp out 8 circles to line the tins. Fill the pastry cases to the top with the cooked mince beef mixture and press down with a spoon.  Top with a cube of Stilton cheese.
4. Roll out the remaining pastry and with the plain side of a 8cm cutter stamp out 8 lids. Beat an egg and brush the underside of the pastry lid with egg and press down on to the edges of the pastry bases. Pinch the edges of the pastry together. Brush the lids with beaten egg and make a large hole in the lids for the steam to escape. Place the tray in the fridge and leave to chill for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Cook for 40 minutes until golden.

Arthur "Fuse" Osmanov | Hanoi

© Arthur Osmanov-All Rights Reserved

Ah, Hanoi! A city made for street photographers, as New York City and Old Havana (and many others) are. The Old Quarter especially replete with natural and impromptu life scenes that make street photographers' hearts jump out of their throats...I could lose myself in that city for days, just ambling about, and take pictures of daily life as it goes on. No one minds your camera...they're far too busy living and making a living to care. All one has to be careful of is the lava stream of whizzing scooters and motorcycles.

Arthur Osmanov Dreams of Vietnam is a collection of monochrome street photographs of Hanoi, which he describes as being a city where everything happens in public, and human interactions are not hidden behind closed doors of privacy.

Arthur is a web designer and a travel photographer who's living on the road for a second year after leaving NYC. He spent half a year in Hanoi working and living around Tay Ho area photographed with my Leica m9 and Fuji X100s.

He also has a gallery of color photographs made in the area of Tay Ho or West Lake.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Beginners Guide to Affordable Bushcraft and Camping Gear

About two years ago I did a series titles A Beginner’s Guide to Camping and Bushcraft. It was intended to give a basic explanation about how to get started with camping and bushcraft if you were trying to figure it out on your own. You can read the series here:

Quite a bit of time has passed since I did the series, and I keep getting a lot of questions about both affordable and beginner gear. So, I figured I would write an updated list for what I consider good beginner gear that will not brake the bank. Most of it will repeat what was provided in the above series, but I will make a few changes and updates.

There are a few things you should keep in mind when reading this post.

First, this is intended to cover only three season gear. By that I mean, gear that you can use in temperatures down to about 32F (0C). While most of the same gear will be equally applicable to winter camping, some changes will have to be made.

Second, the gear recommendations I am providing here focus on commercially available options. By that I mean gear that anyone can find and buy at major retainers. You can certainly find cheaper gear if you search through army surplus stores, or get it from friends and family, but here I am going to deal only with gear that everyone can find with equal ease.

Third, my recommendations here are designed to get you a complete set of gear, which will allow you to comfortably backpack and do bushcraft in the normal conditions you are likely to encounter in the woods. This is not a “survival” gear list, it is not a “look how little gear I can get away with” list, and it is certainly not a “look, I am so trendy” list. The gear listed here will give you general backpacking and bushcraft gear that will allow you to spend time in the woods without drawing any special attention to yourself.

Fourth, in this post I am trying to keep the cost of the gear to a minimum. After all, when you are first starting out, you don’t want to shell out the big bucks.

All that being said, let’s get to the gear!


I know, I know, boring! Let’s get to the knives and pots…we will. First though, we have to cover the most important part, the clothing. Your clothing is what will keep you warm and dry, and in the event you have an emergency, your clothing is what’s going to keep you alive through the night.

Avoid buying clothing based on ridiculously sounding claims. This material keeps you warm when wet, this material is both completely breathable and completely waterproof, this material is fire proof, etc. All of those claims have a small grain of truth behind them, but are ridiculously exaggerated. Most materials and designs will work fine for our purposes. The only material that is generally avoided when out in the woods is cotton. It dries very slowly, and is not particularly warm when wet, although in my experience, no material is warm when wet. That being said, the general wisdom is to avoid cotton clothing when possible.

You should approach your clothing as a system of layers. Layering with several thing garments rather than one thick one will allow you to better thermally regulate, so you don’t get cold or overheated. Each layer has a function that it needs to perform.

Base Layer-This layer of clothing is the one directly against your skin. It should be of material that wicks away sweat from your body. Keeping cost in mind, your best bet here is a simple synthetic (polyester) t-shirt. Technically it would be great if you could find synthetic underwear, but I have done fine with regular cotton ones for many years now. A synthetic t-shirt, or one that is a mixture of synthetic and cotton fibers (try to look for something that is more that 50% synthetic) work well, and should cost you no more that $5. Target has a great brand, C9 by Champion, which has great cheap clothing for this purpose.


Mid Layer-First, the pants. Your best value for the money is a pair of cargo pants that is more than 50% synthetic. You can find them in most department stores, and in many military surplus stores (new, not surplus). They should cost you about $20.

For the upper body I like to split it into two clothing items. I may carry one or both of them depending on the time of the year. Here we are again looking at synthetic clothing. The lower mid layer should be something that fits well and is not too bulky like a thin fleece. A long sleeve synthetic shirt will also do well in this role, and in fact would be preferable in hot environments.


For the upper mid layer thicker fleece works great. It will keep you warm, and you can find good fleece clothing for $20 or $30 at any Wal-Mart. If you have a wool sweater it will work as well.


Shell Layer-Keep in mind that fleece does little to stop the wind from cutting through it. A shell layer will stop both the wind, and will protect you from the rain. For this I like a simple nylon jacket. The jacket should have no insulation, as this is provided by the mid layer. A simple nylon jacket should cost less than $30. I bought mine at an Army surplus store, even though it was a commercially made model. C9 by Champion, available at Target, also has some great jackets of this design for under $30. Some people like to carry rain pants as well, but I have managed to go without them so far. A poncho is also a good shell against rain, but the reason why I prefer the jacket is that the jacket can be used as wind protection and to add warmth. A poncho is however, a very good alternative and will cost you about the same.


Socks-Some good wool socks will go a long way towards making your hike more comfortable. They do not need to be 100% wool, nor do they need to be any special type of wool. You should be able to get a three pack for about $20. If you go to an Army surplus store, you can find Army issue new ones for much less.

Boots-A good pair of boots can make a trip much more enjoyable. That being said however, good booths are expensive, and it is hard to know what type will work for you until you actually do quite a bit of walking in the woods. For example, I have come to like boots with flexible, but thick soles. That is because I carry fairly light loads, which eliminates the need for a stiff sole, but I backpack in very rocky and rough terrain, which requires the thick soles, so I don’t feel every stone. You will figure out what works for you after you spend some time walking with all your gear. I would not spend $150 on shoes before then. A pair of running shoes, or a pair of comfortable work boots will do just fine for now.


Alright, here comes the gear! One of the most important pieces to consider is the backpack. After all, for most of the day, it will contain all of your other gear. It can make the difference between you being bale to cover 10 miles in a day, or two. Nothing will limit your mobility faster than a poorly designed backpack. Unfortunately, most backpacks cost quite a bit of money. I would hold off on buying one until you have finalized your other gear. What you carry will significantly effect what type of pack you want to get. However, we do need something in which to carry our gear on these first few trips. Many people resort to the military surplus ALICE packs. While they do the job, there is a better pack you can find in many stores, including most military surplus stores or simply by doing an online search. It is the Rio Grande 45L Backpack.


It is being currently produced, so it’s not surplus and costs about $30-$40. It can be purchased just about anywhere online. It is made from thick nylon, and has a rubberized coating on the inside. It has straps in the front which can hold your sleeping pad.

The pack is less than idea, and I have no intention of pretending that it will be as good as a $200 pack you can get at REI. That being said, it works. I generally prefer a backpack with a good frame. The Rio Grande does not have a frame, although there is a thick foam backing on the back, which gives the pack good rigidity. If you are eager to get a different pack, an internal frame pack with about 45 to 60 litters of capacity will get the job done. Make sure it has a good hip belt and a decent frame. Stay away from trendy retro looking canvas packs. They may look good, but offer little value when you actually have to carry your gear.

Item Weight Cost
Rio Grande 45L Pack 2lb 6oz (38oz) $30.00

Shelter System:

Your shelter system is of crucial importance. Nothing will make you have the woods more than having to suffer with poor shelter. Your rain cover (tarp or tent), your sleeping bag, and your sleeping pad should be given much thought.


Tarp-If you want to save money, I am afraid that a tent is out of the picture. A decent backpackable tent is already in the $100 range. There are some cheaper ones, but they are too heavy for backpacking. The solution is a reasonably priced tarp. I say reasonably priced because there are some you can find in hardware stored for $10. I would stay away from them. While you can do just fine with such a tarp, they are heavy and loud once put up. By the second trip you would have already bought a new tarp, making that $10 a waste. By buying a reasonably priced one of good quality, you can use it for a long time. The lowest cost one I have been able to find is the Equinox (Campmor) 8x10 Nylon Tarp. It will cost you about $40. It is by no means a top of the line tarp, but it will do the job admirably. In the picture above, it is being held together by two rubber bands. You should also bring a regular plastic bag in which to wrap it when it gets wet.

There are also several ways to pitch a tarp that will create a tent-like feeling. If however you insist on a tent, there are decent options in the $100 range. Of course as with most other backpacking gear, you will pay for the low cost with higher weight and bulk. The Kelty Salida 2 is a good choice, which will cost you $160.00 and weigh about 4lb 8oz. Many manufacturers have tent option in that price range with similar weights.

Often people bring what is called bivi bags in addition to the above shelter option, especially when using a tarp. A bivi bag serves as an outer shell for your sleeping bag to protect it from rain and snow that may get under the tarp. I find that they are not necessary if you use a good size tarp. They add unnecessary weight and trap moisture inside the sleeping bag. With a large tarp like the one listed above, and when properly pitched, you will do fine without a bivi.

Sleeping Bag-The sleeping bag is one of the most important pieces of equipment that you will carry, as it is your primary shelter. It is the sleeping bag that will keep you warm without the need for a fire, and keep out the wind. All the other shelter components are just there to supplement the sleeping bag. You may have seen people recommend wool blankets as a low cost alternative for a sleeping bag, but that is not a viable option unless the weather is very warm. For the weight, wool blankets provide low amount of insulation. To match the insulation you can achieve with a 3lb synthetic sleeping bag, you will need over 10lb of wool blankets. You will also note that once you get that many wool blankets, they turn out to not be a cheaper option.

Unfortunately, there is no extremely low cost way to get around a sleeping bag if you plan on backpacking with it. There are however lower cost options. To begin with, avoid rectangular sleeping bags. While they are comfortable and often cheap, they do not provide the best insulation. You should look for what is called a mummy style bag, which will fit close to your body and preserve the most heat.


The shape aside, when looking at sleeping bags, you will notice two main types. One type uses synthetic insulation, while the other uses down insulation. Each type has benefits and problems, but the largest benefit we are concerned with here is the cost. Synthetic bags typically have an advantage in this category, especially when looking at top of the line products, but tend to weigh more.  Keep in mind however, that not all down bags are made equal. Down bags are rated by “fill”. A 900 fill down bag is top of the line and will cost accordingly, while a 500 fill down one, while providing the same insulation,  is not nearly as good in terms of weight and compressibility, and as a result can cost quite a bit less. In the end, we can find bags of both designs in the $100 price range, but they will have similar weight and compressibility. Which one will suit you best is up to you and is beyond the scope of this post. I think you will do fine with either one.  

For three season backpacking, I would aim for a 20 degree synthetic or low fill down mummy sleeping bag. That should cover about all of your needs. Keep in mind that some people get colder more easily than others, so if you know you get cold easily, take that into consideration. Some good lower cost designs include the North Face Cat’s Meow, which costs about $150.00 and weight 2lb 10oz. Most manufacturers like Marmot, Kelty, Rab, etc, will offer good quality sleeping bags with similar characteristics and price points.

Another option that gets mentioned a lot is the US Army Modular Sleep System (MSS). I used one for a long time. If I had to do it over again, I would have just bought regular non-surplus sleeping bags. The MSS is not that much cheaper, and at this point is outdated technology. You can find warmer, lighter sleeping bags in the same temperature rating for the same money.

I know that with many of these items there is a temptation to want to move “up” to the next level in quality. My opinion is that the only place where you will see a significant increase in performance by doing that is with the sleeping bag. So, instead of buying that $30 knife, or the $15 water bottle, or the $65 tarp, take all that money and put it towards a better sleeping bag. It is well worth the investment.  

Sleeping Pad-You may have heard that a sleeping bag does not provide any insulation under your body because the fibers get compressed by the weight of your body. That is only partially true. A sleeping bag provides a good amount of insulation under your body. Even so, you will want some sort of a sleeping pad. This will make the ground more comfortable, and will provide additional insulation from the ground and moisture. There are a number of inflatable pads out there, but if you want the best performance for the money, go with a simple closed cell foam pad. The Thermarest Ridge Rest SOLite is a good example, that will cost you under $20. If you want to look online at Army surplus equipment, the surplus sleeping pads are very good value at about $5. There is a commercially available equivalent-the Blue Foam Pad, which will cost you just under $20.

Rope-In order to set up your tarp, and performs some general tasks around camp, you will need some rope. A good option is paracord. It is very strong, while being fairly thin. You can buy 100ft for about $4 at any outdoor supply store. Keep one long length (at least 50ft) to use as a ridge line for your tarp, and then about six fifteen foot lengths for the sides of the tarp. You should have a few extra lengths as well.


Item Weight Cost
Tarp 1lb 9oz (25oz) $40
Sleeping Bag (North Face Cat’s Meow) 2lb 10oz (42oz) $120
Sleeping Pad (Blue Foam Pad) 14oz $20
Rope (150 ft) 12oz $8
Total 5lb 13oz (93oz) $188.00

Cooking Equipment:


Pot-When you start staying out overnight, you will want to start cooking some of your food. Here I am talking about things like Ramen noodles and rice. For that you will need a pot. I believe that the best balance between cost, low weight, and performance is achieved by aluminum pots. My favorite one in this category is the  Open Country 2 Qt. Aluminum Pot. It cost $10.

If you need an extra container, a plastic Ziploc container works very well, and will let you store any left over food.

Stove-After you have been out in the woods for some time, assuming you practice, you will become accustomed to cooing your food on an open fire. Until then though, and even after that as a back up, it is good to have a small stove. There are many options and designs out there, but for three season backpacking, if interested in keeping the cost down, I would go with the Super Cat Alcohol Stove. You can make it out of a cat food can using just a hole punch. The can will cost you $1, and the hole punch $1.50 as Staples. It is a lightweight and easy to use option. Don’t forget to bring a simple windscreen made out of aluminum foil. It will significantly increase the efficiency of your stove.

You will need to carry some denatured alcohol as a fuel. I like the S-L-X Denatured Alcohol, which you can find at any hardware store. You can get a quart of the fuel for $5. To carry it, get a bottle that is around 10oz. I use a small Pepsi bottle which is 10oz (smaller than the regular bottle). The bottle of Pepsi will cost you an extra $1.

Don’t forget to bring a spoon. The is the one object for which I will not give you a price, because I know all of you have a spoon somewhere in the house.








Stove (Super Cat)



Windscreen (aluminum foil)



Spoon (regular table spoon)



Fuel Bottle








$15.00 ($17.00 with cost of fuel)

Water Filtration and Storage:

Water Bottle-For me, I have found that for a day hike in the North East, I need at least two quarts of water. Make sure to carry sufficient water for the trip. There are many water bottles out there, but if you are keeping cost in mind, I would recommend a simple Gatorade 32oz bottle. A bottle of Gatorade will cost you about $2, and will be strong and hold sufficient water. Two such bottles will give you the two quarts of water for a total cost of $4.


Metal Cup-I have to admit that this is very much a security blanket for me. Even though you can easily get through a day hike without one, I like to know that I have some way to boil water. If you have to spend the night in the woods, being able to heat up water will keep you considerably warmer. A good cheap version is the Open Country 12oz aluminum cup. It is fairly small, but costs only $3, and is very light weight.

Water Filter-Water filters have come a long way in the last few years. My current choice and recommendation would be the Sawyer Squeeze Filter.


This filter is used by a very large number of backpackers these days, and I have been using it for quite some time now. With all the accessories the system will weigh about 4 oz, and can be found for about $40. Now Sawyer has released a mini version, so I am sure the older models will go on sale soon.

This is my preferred way for treating water. It allows you to process water quickly when you are traveling without the need to boil, and at the same time allows you to drink water from less than ideal sources. While purification tablets are a great option, using them to purify water that you have just scooped up from a puddle, is less than inspiring.

Item Weight Cost

Water Bottle

1.8oz (3.6oz for two)

$2.00 ($4 for two)

Metal Cup



Filter 4oz $40
Total 9.3oz $47

Cutting Tools:

Yes!!! Finally! Real woodsmanship! The reality is that our obsession with cutting tools far exceeds their importance to the modern woodsman. The wood processing needs of most people for three season outings can be satisfied with very minimal cutting tools. For the past year and a half now I have been experimenting in doing it with just a knife and a saw even in winter conditions, and have done just fine. Here I will provide a knife, saw and hatchet. What you chose to carry will ultimately be a product of your needs and your need to assert your masculinity.

Knife-I strongly believe that a knife is an essential tool. It is possible to get by without one, but I don’t consider it good practice. My favorite is the Mora #2. It is a great knife, and costs only $11. In my opinion it is hard to do better for the money. The smaller Mora #1 and the Mora Companion are equally good and cost about the same. I recommend that you not be tempted by expensive, overly designed knives. While they provide a sense of security by virtue of being over engineered, they will not offer much of an advantage from a practical stand point. Eventually, if after you have been in the woods for some time, you decide that you want a particular design, then so be it, but when starting out, it is hard to beat the simple Mora.


Saw-Here you have to decide what size saw you want. A larger saw will generally cut faster, but will weigh more. A good small option is the Kershaw 2550X, which will cost you about $20. It is a very good folding saw, and is identical to the more expensive Bahco Laplander.


Axe-If you plan on carrying an axe, I would strongly recommend that you learn how to work on one first. You should have no problem taking a completely dull and damaged axe and bringing it back to working condition with minimal tools. If you can not do that, I say you can do just fine with a saw and a knife. If however you want an affordable axe, I would recommend the Husqvarna Hatchet. It will cost you $40. You will most likely have to sharpen it, but it is a great value for the money.


Sharpening Stone-If you are going to be in the woods for any extended period of time, especially if you have an axe with you, you will need a sharpening stone. I like stones that do not require water or oil to operate. I use the Fallkniven DC4 stone, which is not cheap at about $27. If you look around you can find better values, although I do not know enough about them to say more than that. Make sure your stone has a course and fine side. The fine side should be very fine, as that is how you get that razor edge.

Item Weight Cost
Knife (Mora #2) 3.3oz with sheath $11
Saw (Kershaw) 6.2oz $20
Hatchet (Husqvarna) 2lb 3oz (35oz) $40
Sharpening Stone (DC4) 2.7oz $25
Total 2lb 15.2oz (47.2) $96

Other Items:

Aside from the major items above, a few other things will be needed. Many of those items will probably be kept in your pocket or a possibles pouch.

Fire Starting Materials-The simplest fire starter is a BIC Mini lighter. It is small, light weight, can be operated by just about anyone and costs 3 for $1. I never go out without one. A box of Coghlans Waterproof Matches makes a great backup fire starting method and will cost you $1 for the box. Avoid paper matches, as they fall apart too easily. You have probably heard of Ferrocerium rods, but I must say I am not a big fan. They are certainly fun to use, but in the hands of the casual user are not nearly as effective as a box of matches. They also require special tinder preparation, which you may not be able to do without sufficient practice. A more important thing to carry is the tinder itself. I like cotton balls and Vaseline, stored in an Altoids Smalls tin. You can put the whole thing together for under $5. Keep your fire kit protected from water in a Ziploc bag.


Flashlight-If you get stuck in the woods after dark, a small flashlight like the Fenix E01 can be of great help. This particular one has a microchip, which regulates the electricity, giving a very long duration from a single AAA battery. It costs only $11, and is well worth the price.


Map and Compass-Since we started this whole trip by buying a map, make sure you have it with you. Also, spend the money and buy a $3 compass. Just about any liquid filled compass of regular size (not a button compass) will do. There are many models out there that have many features, but unless you are exploring the West, making maps for the government, a simple one will do just fine. I’ve been using a basic Coghlan’s compass that I bought for $3 many years ago. It has served me fine. Suunto and Silva also make good affordable compasses.


Signaling Device-You may also want to consider carrying a small mirror and whistle so you can signal in a case of an emergency. I don’t get too preoccupied with them because you will most likely self rescue before anyone even starts looking for you, but if you are in a secluded area, they may be well worth the $2.


Repair Kit-Here I have in mind something simple. Bring a needle with some thread, as well as a small amount of duct tape, and some string. You never know when you will have to repair an article of clothing. It should cost you no more than $2. You can see mine here packed in an Altoids Smalls tin. The string I like to use is dental floss. It is strong and compact. I also carry some artificial sinew for when I need something stronger, but some nylon string will do just fine.


Toiletries-You should also bring some other miscellaneous items like toilet paper and soap. Do not bring a whole roll of toilet paper and a bar of soap. Smaller amounts in a ziplock bag will do just fine. None of this should cost you more than $2.

Item Weight Cost




Tinder (in the Altoids tin)






Flashlight (with battery)















Repair Kit (in Altoids tin)



Toilet Paper



Travel Tooth Brush



Total 8.2oz $40

First Aid Kit:

I am not going to say much about this because this is an area where cutting costs is probably not the best idea. Bring the kit which makes you feel comfortable. If you require any medication, make sure to bring it. You may want to bring some insect repellant if bugs are an issue for you, or sunscreen if the sun is a problem.


I believe that with the above gear a person can reliably and comfortably backpack in three season conditions. Your skill will always play a major role in your trips, but as far as gear goes, I think this list provides a good foundation while at the same time keeping the weight and cost of the gear to a minimum. 

Keeping aside the clothing and first aid kit, which will change depending on the person and the weather, the base weight of the above gear is 12lb 15.2oz (207.2oz). The total cost is $416.

As I stated in the beginning of the post, you can find cheaper items if you look at surplus gear, but from commercially available items, this is the best I have been able to come up with without sacrificing any utility or comfort. Most importantly, the above list provides a complete list of items. It is easy to reduce the price if you start removing items from the list, but ultimately, if you are new to the activity, doing so is the fastest way to kill your desire to go back into the woods. Could you go out with just a single blanket, a poncho and a pot? Sure. What is the likelihood that you will go out again after spending the night trying to shelter yourself from the rain under a poncho, or shivering by the fire? Probably low.

If you are just starting out, or are looking for upgrades to your gear, see what is commonly in use by modern backpackers. It will give you a good starting point. Look to see what others use, and then mix and match. Avoid gimmicks. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If you are curious about my current gear choice, just go through some of my other posts. My gear is constantly evolving and changing as I find new items and make improvements. Playing with gear is half the fun of backpacking.