Category Archives: Fabrication

Pattern making

As I continue to delve into sewing projects, I’m beginning to need some repeatability.  I’ve managed to put together some successful pieces without patterns so far and the time has come to figure out this part of the equation.

 

simple pattern making tool

After a rudimentary proof of concept for a new project, my buddy Scott and I spent an evening drawing up patterns on cardboard and putting together a prototype cut from those patterns.  Satisfied with the outcome of our prototype, we set ourselves on a mission of production for our new idea.  While I cut material using our pattern, temporarily taping the pieces together with iron on seam tape, Scott began assembling components.

The ability to repeatably cut fabric has been awesome, particularly after we swung by the hardware store and bought an inexpensive wood burning/soldering iron to cut and seal edges all at once.

Pattern drawn out on fabric with pattern in the background.

While sewing up the first run, my sewing machine siezed up, throwing a wrench into our production plans, but with some quick transport to Casper via one of Scott’s business trips, we were able to drop the machine with Dave from Sew Fix it.  Dave was amazing, not only fixing the machine overnight basically, but also delivering it back to Lander the next day as he made some other deliveries.  To top it all off, he gave me a tutorial on adjusting stitches, zigzag stitches and machine maintenance, right at the house!

I brought one of the first batch into the field with me for two weeks of backcountry skiing and when I returned, I was able to finish up the “production pieces” before Scott took off for a float down the Grand Canyon, handing them off to him with a feedback form for our “voluntold” testing crew.  We are looking forward to some design feedback, durability testing and most importantly tales of adventure and fun on the big river.

Things we learned in this process:

  1. Hot knives rule to cut nylon.
  2. cardboard patterns are easier to trace around on fabric than paper.
  3. Math skills.  This is why they teach math in schools, you may actually need it someday!
  4. Sewing machines need to be oiled.  (oops, thanks Dave!)
  5. We still have a bunch to learn before we go into actual “production.”
  6. Scott made his first machine stitches (and did great!)
  7. Iron on seam tape is awesome when working with lightweight fabrics and washes out when they are all sewn up.

Scott lays down his first stitches on the prototype cut from our very first pattern.

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Filed under DIY, Fabrication, gear, MYOG, Sewing

Adventure Travel – National Geographic Adventure Blog

While I was in the field the abridged version of my Backcountry Boiler review was featured on the National Geographic Adventure Blog, check it out:

Adventure Travel – National Geographic Adventure Blog.

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Filed under backcountry, backpacking, DIY, equipment, Fabrication, gear, lightweight, MYOG, Outdoors, Reviews, ultralight, wilderness

Modular AVY Pouch Prototype

When Mike St. Pierre from Hyperlite Mountain Gear was hanging out at my house this summer I was throwing out ideas for all kinds of things when he playfully mentioned that it’s not the ideas that are the hard part of gear design.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of business or marketing experience, which I think is what Mike was alluding to.  Still, I threw out the idea of an ultralight ski pack, perhaps based on the Windrider pack they already make, and Mike seemed intrigued.  After reading that I had been taking the Windrider out on some ski tours, Mike suggested that his new Porter pack might be a better fit for skiing.  After a brief email exchange where I told Mike about some upcoming ski courses I would be working for NOLS, he sent me out the Hyperlite Expedition, the big brother to the Porter, and I agreed that I would prototype an Avy pouch that would attach to either the Porter or Expedition.

Hyperlite Expedition Pack. Photo courtesy of Hyperlite Mountain Gear.

The Porter/Expedition packs are no frills ultralight packs in classic mountaineering style.  The packs are constructed from the same Cuben Fiber hybrid as the Windrider, but features a beefier (but not bulkier) waist belt and shoulder straps.  The packs can be closed in either drybag style – creating a loop at the top, or with the removable vertical straps for a clean top.  Along each side of the pack runs a vertical daisy chain, to about halfway up the length of the pack.  On the rear of the pack run another pair of daisy chains, framing the rear panel.

I spent an evening this week building a Prototype Avy tool pouch that should work well.   Overall, I am happy with how this “first draft” turned out, though it wasn’t without its trials and a few ripped seams.  I can’t seem figure out pattern making yet.  I find it helpful for conceptualizing and laying stuff out, but my sizing keeps coming out a bit off.  Easily fixed at the sewing machine though!   It attaches securely with 3/4″ side release buckles and remains quickly removable.  The pack has three compression straps on the sides which should allow ski carry in the A-Frame method, which isn’t my preferred way to haul skis around when they aren’t on my feet, so I’ll continue to look at ways to incorporate a diagonal carry method with the new pouch attached.  After some testing this winter, I’ll send the pouch off to Mike and we’ll see if he can adapt my “train-of-consciousness” sewing job into a refined Cuben Fiber product worthy of his pack line.

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Filed under backcountry, DIY, equipment, Fabrication, gear, lightweight, MYOG, Outdoors, Sewing, skiing, ultralight, Uncategorized

Random Encounters

The mountains can bring people together, you learn to watch out for each other, to share and learn from your companions and to be friendly and welcoming to those you meet along the way.

Lower Jean Lake, Wind River Mountains, Wyoming

Two years ago a sales rep friend of a my buddy Kevin McGowan, the long time Outfitting Manager at NOLS Rocky Mountain dropped off a fancy new ultralight shelter off for us to look at from a start up company from Maine called Hyperlite Mountain Gear.  I have been coordinating the Lightweight program at NOLS for about six years now, so Kev handed me the shelter and asked me to test it out and tell him what I thought.  Due to a busy summer schedule, I “pawned” the testing off on another lightweight fanatic who was able to get out a bit sooner that I was.  I’ll post on my initial impressions on the shelter, but that’s not so much the story of the mountains and people that I want to share.

This summer I was cruising around the Wind River Range of Wyoming, what I consider my back yard, with an amazing group of people on a NOLS lightweight backpacking course.  Our community of folks was really tight and we had traveled the length of the Southern Winds through perhaps the most spectacular route you can do.  As we continued North, two of our hiking groups had a chance encounter with these nice fellas from Maine with some fancy ultralite packs.  They wanted to know if we were sponsored by Golite because so many of us had the Jam pack.  My wife Janeen, who was working the course with me and another Ryan explained the volume of Jam packs and that we were with NOLS.  She asked about their packs and this guy named Mike explained that he owned this ultralight gear company called Hyperlite Mountain Gear, and had built these packs.

The day they met. Photo Credit: Janeen Hutchins http://www.janeenhutchinsphotography.com

As Janeen and Mike carried on about the benefits of lightweight backpacking, it came out that I had a role in the NOLS lightweight program and that it would be great if Mike and his hiking buddy/sponsored athlete “Bama” swung by our house for a post course barbeque after they finished their trip.  Janeen offered some information on the cool places to go in the winds after they explained that they were coming from the summer Outdoor Retailer Show and a friend and colleague there had said they should hike in the winds before heading home.  They were headed the way we had come, and Janeen, being a savvy back-country woman, could describe the route blow by blow.

The scenic route.

There are a lot of ways to travel through the Winds, and that day my group took the scenic route.  We never saw Mike and Bama. I was excited that the students had been able to talk to them, see the gear they were making and hear about other ways of applying lightweight skills.  I wondered if they would actually give a call and swing by at our post course celebration.

Sure enough, the evening we rolled out of the field Mike gave a ring and we guided him into our house where we were hosting the course for our graduation.  We grilled up some grub and had an ultralight stove building clinic, I spent a bunch of time talking to Mike and Bama about the gear they build and the adventures they had been on, where they were from and what Mike hoped to do with Hyperlite.

This is the part I find so fascinating.  Here are these guys, Bama an accomplished thru-hiker, and Mike with a remarkable story of changing careers from the New York world of culinary arts to being the owner and designer of ultralight gear built in the USA, eating BBQ at my place in the small town of Lander Wyoming, after a chance encounter in the mountains.  The people we meet, the stories we share.  These are some of the things that are the most remarkable about the outdoors.

To hear the story of Hyperlite in Mikes words, check out this video.

I’ll also be publishing my initial impressions of two flagship pieces from Hyperlite very soon, stay tuned!

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Ice Tool and Equipment Case

Years ago, Black Diamond Equipment came out with a case for ice climbing tools called the ice box.  At the time I was deeply invested in the frozen world of vertical ice, I had a slew of gear, ice tools, crampons, ice screws, screamers (who participates in a sport that includes a device called a screamer!)  and various other accoutrement.  I thought the concept of the ice box was a good one, but I lived in a pickup truck at the time and worked in the mountains all summer to save enough money to rent a place in Ouray Colorado during the winter so I could climb ice.

I had some experience sewing my own gear and figured I could sew a similar case for far less than it was being sold by BD (they were charging way more when it first came out if I remember correctly). I spent a long day sewing this up at NOLS Rocky Mountain in Lander, WY before heading to the icy canyons in Ouray for the winter.

This piece was all scratch built, no pattern, a lot of brainstorming and quite a few seams being ripped and re sewn.  It has padded sides, using closed cell foam, can can easily store two sets of tools, a pair of crampons in the integrated pouch (and up to three additional pairs loose inside or in stand alone pouches), a slew of screws in a removable roll-up pouch, and there is a pocket for miscellaneous wrenches, picks, slings, spectre hooks and the like.  To date it is likely the most complex piece I have sewn.  It’s red too, so you can carry your gear around faster.

Here is what I came up with:

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New sewing machine

I just picked up a new (to me) sewing machine.  A Singer 20u53.  I’m real excited to have a machine at home to continue building and developing gear, and to improve my fabrication skills. I got the tension adjusted and have whipped up a few “proof of concept” pieces already.

I also recently met a NOLS instructor, David Nyberg, who has made a lot of his own gear with excellent execution, an inspiration to be sure!

Keep an eye out for posts on the stuff I’ve built in the past, and for the things to come…

New to me Singer 20u53 sewing machine with table, yee haw!

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Fire in the mountains

The Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler Review

As a tinkerer of gear, I really get excited when someone else goes for it and decides to build something they want that doesn’t exist.  In the case of Devin Montgomery that something was a wood fired boiler small and light enough to take backpacking in an ultralight style.  The entire story and evolution, from brainstorming and crowdsourcing design, to prototyping and ultimately production can be found at Devin’s excellent blog The Boilerwerks which describes the trials and tribulations and success of developing this unique device.

The Backcountry Boiler uses the chimney effect to quickly boil water.

One of the things that I like the most is that this was truly a project based on learning by doing.  Almost every step of the process was a new adventure for Devin.  In the end he produces a unique, high quality, functional and simple piece of equipment that works well.

The Backcountry Boiler is elegant in design and function.  It allows a backpacker to go with out fuel by burning found fuels along one’s route. The system consists of two basic parts needed to function and three light accessories; the boiler proper and the support or burner base, a heat resistant sleeve that allows the user to pick the boiler directly off the flame with bare hands, a small silicone stopper and a simple sil-nylon stuff sack that it can store in.

Weighing in at 8.8 oz complete on my scale, the boiler is heavier than some alcohol stoves but in the same weight class as many other wood burners.  Here’s where it makes up for the couple extra ounces over other systems: no need to carry fuel.  In addition, the boiler itself can be used as a water bottle with the included stopper!  By paring the kit down, the weight of the stove can be reduced even further.  Leave behind the stuff sack and you come in at 7.9 oz, the stopper and you are at 7.3, and just the boiler and the fire pan leave you with a svelte 7 oz. system.

The Boiler is made from spun, hard anodized aluminum, providing a more rigid construction when compared to titanium sheet.  This material also allows for good heat transfer and an acceptable weight in the ultralight stove category.

Wind makes the boiler burn hotter, and can be controlled by simply turning the intake in the base into or out of the breeze.

In field use, the Boiler proves to be surprisingly fast.  Boiling two cups (16oz./500ml) of water multiple times per day over six days on a NOLS Lightweight Backpacking Course, I consistently had boil times of 5 minutes or less at altitudes between 8000-10,000 feet, often using frigid water.  This volume of water is ideal for “boil in a bag” type meals, and is my preferred volume for hot drinks as well.  It’s important to note that the boiler doesn’t actually boil your food in the boiler its self, but boils the water to be added to your dehydrated meal in either a bag designed for this, or another container, perhaps your titanium mug.

This may be the only drawback to the boiler.  People who cook, rather than rehydrate meals will find the boiler unsuitable.

How it works

The boiler functions on the simple chimney effect.  A small fire is built in the burner base using tinder with the boiler already in place, though in practice I found it easier to light the fire and then place the boiler on the base.  Be sure that the stopper is not plugging the water fill hole, or the vessel could explode.

unburned fuel after a double boil

Once the fire is going and your filled boiler is on the base, turn the hole in the base into the wind, or if a really calm day you may need to blow into the hole.  Feed the boiler through the chimney in the top, I found that using sticks no bigger around than my somewhat meaty pinky or ideally about pencil diameter worked well.

The sticks should also be broken to a length no longer than the top of the burner to reduce flame height which results in wasting fuel.  On average, I could boil my two cups using just one handful of sticks.  For reference, when I hold my finger tips together in a circle, the diameter is about an inch and a half, but I have big hands.

The boiler burns very hot, so with small sticks as fuel there is very little ash, and once cold to the touch, the ash can easily be scattered to the wind.  Any partially burned sticks will be so small they will disappear in the environment, just be sure they are fully extinguished.

One of the great things about the boiler is that it can burn all most any type of combustible solid.  I even burned a piece of dried cow patty one night with no problems at all.  Grass, sticks, paper, cardboard, basically anything that can burn.  Devin even ships the Boiler in burnable packaging along with a tea bag and an instant coffee so you can try it right away, pretty cool.  There is also a wick system available to burn denatured alcohol, which would be useful above tree line or in areas that have mixed fire regulations like canyons.

For people cooking one pot, just add water meals, or “boil in a bag” food, the ability to travel without fuel is an unquestionable advantage in the field.  The Backcountry Boiler is an efficient, Eco-friendly (burns renewable fuels!) stove system that evolves the lightweight kit to the next level.

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