Cyalume Light Sticks



This is a picture provided by the Internet.  There is a HUGE debate involving “Leave No Trace” and the use of “disposable” items.  On a three-day trip Cyalume lightsticks provide an easy battery free method for lighting when you need it.  The chemical reaction directly produces light as opposed to providing power that excites a filament.  There are fewer points of failure with a lightstick.  This makes them more reliable.  Now for the part of the conversation that will likely cause an argument.

Lightsticks are MORE ecologically sound than a battery and LED.  First, construction of a lightstick takes and produces less in the way of environmental contaminants.  The process of crafting multiple metals, chemicals, plastic, and glass is more damaging to the environment than crafting just glass, plastic and chemicals into a light source.

Next, the chemicals in lightsticks are non-toxic.  Once used, cutting them open and dumping them on the ground with no ill effect.  What about leaving a battery in a forrest?  That IS toxic.

Remove the chemical from the lightstick and you have glass and plastic leftover.  BOTH of these are EASILY recycled.  It takes MUCH more energy to dismantle and recycle even an LED based light.

So, to review, the disposable lightsticks are directly and easily recyclable with the exception of the non-toxic chemical inside of them.  LED lights and batteries MUST be processed to get them down to components for recycling.  This requires a larger amount of energy.

In this case, the best answer if you are environmentally conscious is to use lightsticks.  Since they are a “consumable” you don’t count them in your weight when Ultralight Backpacking.  You get light for free.  Feel free to leave rants.  I look forward to them.

Here is a convenient place to pick them up from.

UV Buff


Picture of a product called a UV Buff

One of the only pieces of cotton gear that is recommended in UL Backpacking is the bandana.  The idea exists that although it is cotton, it is worth overlooking because of its multipurpose nature.  This item can completely replace the bandana, and add capability.  Just like the bandana it can filter murky water, be used as a wash cloth, a case for glasses, a neck warmer, head cover, sun protection…

This blog is not big enough for all the potential uses.  The best part is, it is not cotton.

You can get one here.

Gerber Curve Pot Lifter


Demonstrating how to use a Gerber Curve as a pot lifter.

This is the Gerber Curve.  The photo above shows how to use the Curve as a pot lifter.  The spring is strong enough to hold the Curve on while lifting a BOT full of water.  Consider using something like a Buff as an insulator to protect your hand after removing the BOT from the fire .  The Curve is a tool in this kit because:

  1. It is an effective pot lifter (that is actually a bottle opener)
  2. It has a pen blade
  3. It has a Phillips head that can unscrew the screws in a Cold Steel Shovel
  4. It has an awl that can make pilot holes for screws when using a different handle in the Cold Steel Shovel
  5. Drill out/grind out the flat head screwdriver blade to make it into a can opener
  6. It is a locking blade system (safety first)

This one tool improves the usefulness of many of the other tools in the survival kit and the UL kit.  At .8 oz it is a bargain in weight.  The cost was negligible.

If the BOT is a serious consideration, then the Curve must go with it.

Vargo Bot



Welcome to a Ti canteen, pot, double boiler, coffee percolator, oven, measuring cup…

This is the container that holds most of my 72 hour kit.  A paracord tied around the outside makes a functional pail handle.  Use the BOT to collect water and treat it (by boiling).  The BOT lid is an 8oz/1 cup/500 ml cup that screws on to seal it (use as a canteen).  There is a ridge inside the lid that marks the 4 oz/1/2 cup/250 ml point.  To use this as a double boiler while cooking, place something in the inverted lid while the water is boiling in the bottom section.  Vargo makes a silicon lip protector to attach to titanium mugs.  The lip protector will fit on the BOT.

MSI provides the coffee percolator conversion here.  Cut down the percolator basket (about half height) and trim an inch and a quarter from the stem top using a Dremel.  The new size basket will provide the maximum amount of coffee that the BOT will hold (4 cups).  This will also reduce unnecessary weight.

Use the BOT as an oven for cooking biscuits or muffins by stacking two 5 ounce tuna cans.  Use an old wire coat hanger to create an insert that lifts the bottom tuna can up 3/4 of an inch, creates a shelf for the second can to rest on, and leaves a loop at the top to lift the cans out.  Use a lid removing can opener on the tuna cans so that you can get the muffin or biscuit out of the can (can lip is not in the way).

Make Hot Chocolate by melting some cocoa in the lid while boiling water.  When the chocolate melts pour it and evaporated milk into the boiling water.  Hot chocolate.

The BOT is available here

Even more comfortable.


MY rules for ultralight backpacking look something like this:

NO cotton, anywhere, ever.

NO batteries, anywhere, ever.

No (rubbing) alcohol based products, anywhere, ever

Quality is non-negotiable.  If it weighs less, but is lower quality, it is too much of a trade-off.  You are trusting your life to equipment.

Build your own, and you know how to fix it.

Following these guidelines, the first thing added to the list is a towel available from REI.  Use this instead of a cotton bandanna.  It has all the same functionality, plus you can use it to dry off.  The one used weighs 2 ounces.

Buy some 1oz pump sprayers on ebay.  Use these for spray deodorant, sunscreen, and liquid soap.  We already have sunscreen and liquid soap in the survival kit, and we add deodorant in this pound of gear.

1/2 ounce hand sanitizer weighs 1 oz.  You can get one here.

The underwear included weighs 1.2 oz per pair.  For 72 hours count the ones worn, plus 2.4 ounces (2 pairs) in the pack.

Silk T-shirts weigh 2.5 ounces.  Like with underwear wear one, include 2 in pack weight.  That totals 5 ounces.

Sock liners help prevent blisters when used with a regular sock.  These weigh in at 1.75 ounces each.

Start out wearing a pair of (wool) hiking socks.  Change out the liners daily and air out the wool socks every night.

Total weight of these products is a pound.

The next pound is food.  3 freeze-dried dinners totaling 16 ounces.

The next pound we will discuss includes a backpack.  We have to carry all this stuff somehow.  We will be placing 9 to 10 pounds in this backpack if you have followed the recommendations in all the articles so far.  The pack will be water proof to protect the sleeping bag.

Last is a repair kit.  Spend an ounce to fix sleeping pads.  The one recommended in the next article requires inflation.  It offers huge R-Value for very little weight.

Various levels of comfort…


Comfort.  Now that we have handled requirements for surviving, it is time to enjoy it.  “Any man who does not enjoy life, does not deserve to live it.”  That quote is from  Da Vinci.  A good nights sleep is an item that nothing else replaces.  Western Mountaineering makes a wonderful 1 pound sleeping bag.  After that, consider the tools for preparing hot meals.  A half liter Platypus is used to store fuel for a WhiteBox stove.  The fuel for the stove is HEET (yellow bottle).  Add some breakfast food (6 packets of instant oatmeal in a ziploc bag).  The sleeping bag and the “kitchen” gear all add 2 more pounds to the 3 you already have in your 72 hour survival kit.

In our next installment we move from using an improvised pack, to an actual backpack (relax, it only weighs 12.2 ounces).  And before you ask, yes, a gear list will be provided soon.

Until then, here is the next article in the series.

From survival kit to ultralight backpacking – The second 24 hours/16 oz.


You discover that help is more than 24 hours away.  Looking at the 10 item survival kit you have, you feel you need a little more to last an additional 24 hours.  Better shelter, water storage, and purification on the move are some good ideas.

  1. Shelter (11 oz) – Gatewood Cape – As a shelter, the Gatewood Cape provides significantly enhanced protection when compared to your typical poncho/tarp. Its design easily sheds rain or snow and wind simply flows around it. Any sudden change in wind direction in the middle of the night won’t leave you scrambling to re-orient your shelter or force you deeper into your bivy. Unlike a tarp, the Gatewood Cape is a shaped tarp and eliminates all exposed sides, leaving you safe and secure.
  2. Water storage (.9 oz) – 1 liter Platypus – Light, flexible, works with multiple caps.
  3. Water purification (.6 oz) – Potable Chlorine Dioxide tablets – Each tablet treats 1L of water in four hours.  Use the BOT to boil 1L of water, let it cool and put it in the Platypus.  Refill the BOT, drop one of these tablets in it and let the water treat in the sealed BOT for four hours (while drinking the liter in the Platypus).  Do this process in the morning, and when you stop in the middle of the day to eat, you can move the liter of water in the BOT to the Platypus for drinking.  Refill the BOT, add a tablet, and have clean water in the evening.
  4. Tent stakes (1.75 oz) – Orange Shepherd Hook Titanium Stakes – These stakes are a little longer and a little thicker gauge titanium than the normal shepherd hook stakes. They have an orange head to make them harder to lose because they are easier to see.
  5. Light (.75 oz) – Caylume light stick – Low weight, battery free way of lighting an area.  Link connects to orange color.  Orange makes it easier to find you.

These five items extend survivability an additional 24 hours.  The tent (Gatewood Cape) is also rain gear.  Wrap in the thermal blanket first, then put the Gatewood Cape on.  In the evening set up the Cape as a “tent.”  Wrap in the thermal blanket as a “sleeping bag.”  You will last another 24 hours in greater comfort than the previous day.  At this point you have two pounds of gear on you.  Most of it fits in pockets.  If you are responding to a disaster at home, or stuck out in the woods, you have done something to significantly increase your chance of survival.

Update 2014 :  I dropped the Light sticks in lieu of a flashlight.  The water purification tabs are now in the first 24 hours of the kit to go with the GearPod.  The Platypus is no longer part of this load out.  The tent stakes are in the third 24 hours/16 oz of this kit.  That gives me 5 ounces to work with.  I may bring the BOT back into this kit at this point.

The next article will wrap up the first three days of a survival situation.  It is located here.

From survival kit to ultralight backpacking – The first 24 hours/16 oz.


A recent passion of mine is Ultralight Backpacking.  The basic premise is to take what you need, and enjoy yourself comfortably.  Articles exist that provide a perspective that UL backpacking is about doing without, to the level of silliness.  This is not one of those articles.  This series starts at the idea of building a survival kit, then adding just enough to make the kit a 3 day, 3 season UL backpacking list.  Instead of trying to approach the backpacking list as, “how to shave down wight in your pack,” the idea here is one of, “starting from scratch, build a solid foundation.”

Let’s agree on a few rules to make this situation work.  First, the idea is to get a job done in the minimum weight possible.  An inferior product will not do the job.  Maintain functionality when in outdoor situations.  This does not mean that the products recommended are perfect.  As always YMMV.

Second rule is that some tools may need some “rework” to lower weights .  This is not required, but should at least be considered.

Update 2014: Third rule, no electronics or batteries.  Simplify things and reduce points of failure.  Batteries are an environmental contaminant, can do damage when made wet, and are a failure point.  Simplify your system.  It is more economical to use an LED flashlight with a battery.  Lasts longer, reusable, and signals.

Fourth rule, no alcohol.  Try to use products that do not have alcohol in them.  Alcohol dries things out.  There are other options.

Rule of three’s:

In any extreme situation you cannot survive for more than:

3 minutes without air – 3 hours without shelter

3 days without water – 3 weeks without food.

This is a 10 item kit constructed out of readily available items.  It weighs 1 pound.  Using it many can survive for 24 hours.  Test if YOU can.  YOU can make adjustments to suit you.  This is just one way to do it.

  1. Shelter (2.6 oz) – SOL Heat Sheets Emergency Blanket – This product is water proof.  It reflects body heat back to your body.  You have a basic fundamental form of shelter in this product.  Use this to provide for this need for 24 hours.  Though this is not great or glamorous, you should survive.
  2. Shelter (1 oz) – Sun screen – This shelters you from the sun.  It prevents sunburns that can cause pain, dehydrate you, and potentially become a medical situation.  Use a partially emptied bottle in your kit to reduce weight. 2014 UPDATE – I have replaced this with a .25 oz eyedropper that has a mix of 100% DEET and sunscreen. This now weighs .5 oz
  3. Light (.75 oz) – Caylume light stick – Low weight, battery free way of lighting an area.  Link connects to orange color.  Orange makes it easier to find you. 2014 UPDATE – After much review on environmental hazards, and many comparisons, the a 1.25 oz Preon P1 replaced it. This will allow the removal of light sticks from the rest of the kit dropping the overall weight.
  4. Multi-purpose (1 oz) – 550 Paracord – Approximately 20 feet of paracord.  The uses of paracord in a survival situation will be its own post.
  5. First-Aid (3.95 oz) – First-Aid kit in a zip-loc bag – Mine includes SPF 50 chapstick, duct tape, bandages and dressing, butterfly closures, adhesive knuckle bandages, adhesive fabric bandages, gauze dressing, triple antibiotic ointment, antiseptic wipes, ibuprofen, antihistamines, anti-diarrheal, moleskins, benzalkonium chloride wipes, safety pins, splinter tick remover.
  6. Fire (.5 oz) – Ferrocium rod – Use with high carbon blade to throw sparks to start a fire.  A fire offers heat, light, signaling and protection.  Remove the cord and piece of steel that comes with it.
  7. Water (4.7 oz) – Titanium BOT – Water from a stream combined with the fire above creates drinkable water.  This can make one liter at a time AND can store it while on the move. 2014 UPDATE – First, this can not boil water (it is plastic), but you can use water treatment chemicals to make drinkable water. Second, this fits in the BOT. This way you can use the BOT to store/transport/treat water while having a place to store your kit. XL GearPods weigh 4.25 oz.
  8. Navigation (.7 oz) – Brunton Classic compass – These are becoming hard to find.  Brunton does not manufacture them any more.  This compass will last, provide most navigation functions and does it for very little weight.  Drill some holes in the base plate to decrease weight.  Replaced by the Brunton Truarc3
  9. Communication (.3 oz) – Whistle – Multi tone, multi chamber (one has a pea), 120dB.  Remove the REI label, drill a larger hole closer to the pea chamber, cut/sand down unused length.  This decreases unneeded space and weight.
  10. Knife (.8 oz) – Gerber Curve – Provides a bottle opener for use as a pot lifter, a phillips head screw driver for removing screws from my Cold Steel Shovel, and an awl for making pilot holes for replacement handles.

This is a start for 24 hours.  This kit represents nine of the ten C’s of survival.  Those are; cutting, combustion, cordage, container, cleaning, communication, compass, comfort, and “candle light.”  The missing one is collecting food (not required during the first 24 hours).  We will address that with the additions to the kit on day 3/the third 16 ounces.

To review, this kit can actually sustain you for 24 hours.  It provides the needs stated by several different survival methodologies.  It weighs less than one pound.  The BOT stores everything.  Use the paracord to go around the BOT and make a sling and carry it over your shoulder.  Distribute the contents of the kit into your pockets and use the BOT to carry water.

Total cost of this kit is approximately $150 U.S.  Some may comment on “Altoids Tin survival kits.”  While those are novel, try using one for 24 hours.  Then try this kit.  Which one is more comfortable?  Which instills more faith that you will survive?

The next article will add 5 items to the kit, and extend survival for 24 more hours.

UPDATE 2012:  This did not work.  The gear list has a few changes.  Lifting a pot full of boiling water off of a fire was no easy task.  This required rethinking the material list.  When one thing changed, the system changed.  The Curve replaced this piece of gear:

ESEE AH-1 – High carbon steel for FireSteel use, small, light, multi-use (make a small spear with a straight stick and some of the strands in the paracord).

Gerber makes the lightest potlifter.  It is a tool called the Curve.  It weighs .8 oz.  The knife (blade) that it is replacing weighs .5 oz.  That is a loss of .3 oz for an ability to lift a pot.  Hopefully some research will show how to replace the flat head screwdriver that comes on the Curve with a can opener blade.  Replacing the screwdriver with a can opener means the tool will have a pot holder/lifter (using the built-in bottle opener), a knife blade (for starting fires), a Phillips head screwdriver (for dismantling a cold steel shovel), an awl for “pilot drilling” holes in cut down or scavenged branches to make longer handles for the shovel, and a can opener.

UPDATE 2014:


This is what the kit looks like in September of 2014.  I just added tinder (fatwood), and that pushed a 16 ounce survival kit to 17 ounces.  In the upper left corner are the two lids for the GearPod.  Next to it is the large case with orange duct tape and orange 550 cord wrapped around it.  The blue and white fabric is a UV Buff.  The orange foil pack is an emergency blanket.  The black bottle on it is a 50/50 mix of 100% DEET and SPF 50 sunblock.  The next row shows 2 pieces of fatwood next to a mini Bic lighter.  My second fire starter is an Exotac nanoStriker.  Chapstick with sunblock will protect my lips, and have use to grease a stick to start a fire.  There are ten water purification tablets that provide 10 liters of drinkable water.  The compass is a Suunto wrist compass.   I included soap for use as a first aid function (the Buff fills the need for a bandage, compress, etc).  The AAA battery goes to the Preon P1.  My sewing kit is Kevlar thread with a sail needle and some safety pins.  This can easily become a fishing kit if needed.  In front we have the Gerber Curve and a Ti whistle.  I may remove the Gerber Curve and replace it as I am no longer using the Ti BOT.  I may redesign the other two kits that follow this (part two and three in the series) to include the BOT and Curve later.

Part two of this series is located here.