Category: Gear Review

SUV Rod Racks

Last year, around May or June, I was looking for a better to transport my fishing rods.  The telescoping rods were in a sort of pile in a back corner of the trailblazer.  The longer rods were leaned in a corner and along the sides of the seats.  The longest rod, one of my wife’s, was always whacking her in the head as it arche against the roof of the vehice.  There had to be a better way.

Of course there was.  A lot of online research lead me to some commercially available vehicle rod racks sold at Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops.  They ranged from about $40 for cheap cloth/rope loops to $150 or more for metal rods and plastic holders.  There were also plenty of home made solutions also ranging from cloth/rope loops to PVC.  There are loads of PVC designs.

I don’t have anything against PVC but it wasn’t what I wanted.  I wanted to use the existing grab handles and garment hangers.   I wanted metal bars if at all possible.  After giving it a lot of thought, and thinking about stuff I had seen in stores I figured I could use the commercially made garment hanging bars.  They are designed to go from one garment hook to another, or one grab handle to another and for you to hang a bunch of clothes on coat hangers on them.  They are available at any automotive store for around $10.

Looking around in Dick’s, I saw several types of Berkely rod hlders.  They were designed to be mounted on a garage wall, or boat deck.  But the simple two hole mounting made it look easy to attach to the bars.  A couple of stops, 20 minutes of work, and a dozen zip ties later and voila!

The bars are adjustable to the width of your vehicle. They attach by either a metal rectangle or plastic hook. They can attach to either grab handles or garment hooks.

The rod racks are two pairs of the Berkley Twist Lock 4 Rod Racks. I chose those because of the enclosed circle type holders. That seemed more secure for the rod butts. I just put the rods through the twist lock front portions, but I don’t use the locks. I mounted them on top of the bars instead of hanging to give me more head clearance.

This gives me a capacity of 8 rods, which is more than enoough right now. Especially since 3 of my rods are telescoping and don’t get put in the racks. If we ever need more capacity it will be easy enough to replace the 4 rod racks with 6 rod racks. I could probably squeeze one more in the center, but I wanted to leave some space for other things.

The mounting was zip ties through the screw holes on each end. So far they worked magnificently. Here is a selection to choose from

The pictures are too big for the blog, so click on them for a full view.






Yeah, I did say TJ Maxx for outdoor gear.  Yeah, I was suprised too.  Hang on, this is going to be a long story.

I have a pretty good wife.  Not that we don’t have our issues, but overall my complaints are minor.  Of course part of any good relationship is compromise, and that means that sometimes I have to not go fishing or shooting or kayaking and have to go shopping instead.  My wife is what is known as a “Maxx-anista”, an avid fan of the discount places like the outlets and especially TJ Maxx (from whence the title comes), Marshalls, and Home Goods.

I was doing my husbandly duty in this regard, accompanying my wife to TJ Maxx, when she said “Hey, have you thought about looking here for that stuff you’re looking for?”  The “that stuff” she was referring to is winter outdoor clothing.  I’d like to develop an interest in winter kayak fishing, due mainly to the fact that it’s winter and I want to continue kayak fishing.  That requires much different gear than in the summer, spring, or even fall.  One needs stuff to stay dry and stuff to stay warm.

There is a huge segment of the outdoor industry devoted to this already.  Plenty of people kayak, fish, kayak fish, hunt, hike, bike, jog, and generally wander around the outdoors all winter while wiser folk sit home where there is heat and shelter.  So there is already clothing for this.  But it can be expensive.  So I was thinking I was going to spend all winter piecing the gear together a little at a time and I would have it all just in time for spring.  And that would be going with the cheapest end of the spectrum.  Now I might actually get to kayak fish before the end of the year.  But first let me talk a bit about the needed gear itself.

The Yachtsman has an excellent article on cold weather outdoor gear, but I will try to summarize it a bit here.  You need 3 layers; a base layer, an insulation layer, and a shell layer.  The base layer keeps your skin dry by wicking moisture, especially sweat, away to the insulation layer.  The insulation layer creates a boundary of warm air around your body while allowing moisture to move out to the shell layer.  The shell layer allows moisture to escape while preventing moisture and wind from entering.

Not all materials do these things well.  Cotton, for example, not only does a poor job of these things, but activley leaches heat from your body.  Wool, and silk are among the best natural fibers for these things.  However non natural fibers such as polyester are even better.  Wool, silk, and polyester all retain their insulating properties even when wet.  In other words wet cotton will add to your misery, but wet polyester will still help you.

Polyester does not absorb moisture and dries quickly when it does get wet.  Even though wool and silk still insulate when wet, they do loose efficiency.  And they also absorb moisture and do not dry quickly which can increase your discomfort.  In cold weather and on cold water discomfort kills.  Wool and silk also weigh more in proportion to their insulating abilities than polyester.  Acrylic can also be good.

You may hear the term “techinical fabric” being used by winter sports enthusiasts.  Technical fabrics are things like polyester, acrylic, gore tex, and other non natural materials used in winter outdoor gear.  These fabrics and fibers are designed to perfromed the nessecary functions of cold weather gear.

Don’t forget your accessories such as hats, scarves, balaclavas, hoods, neck gaiters, buffs, gloves, and socks.  You can lose as much as 50% of your body heat through your head, so keep it covered.  If you find your feet or hand are getting cold make sure your gloves and socks are loose enough.  Impeded circulation is a leading cause of cold digits.  If your core is warm enough then your body will circulate war blood to your extremities.  But not without good circulation.

As I said discomfort kills in the cold.  As discomfort increases you lose focus and ability.  You get “the umbles”; mumbles, stumbles, grumbles, and fumbles.  You start making mistakes.  Your fingers and other body parts don’t work like they should.  It makes everything ten times more difficult and makes it easy to make potentially fatal mistakes.  That’s what we’re talking about here.  Life and death.

Turn your kayak over in cold water and you can go into shock within seconds if you aren’t properly prepared.  Maybe you went all summer without turning over.  But now you have cold fingers, and chills, and are wet with frigid water and the wind is blowing freezing cold spray in your face, and you turn a little too far trying to reach something in your crate……………………………………….

So I’m not being melodramatic.  Cold weather gear is life support equiment.  Being comfortable isn’t about  being a wimp.  It’s about not making the mistakes that will kill you.  Comfort is the difference between a fun day fishing and a newspaper story about a guy who drowned in the river or lake during winter.

Even if you aren’t a winter sports enthusiast it is a good idea to have some winter gear.  Winter gear, including all 3 layers, should be a part of every emergency kit or bug out bag.  A spare set should also be included in a kayak dry bag emergency kit.  That would facilitate quickly changing into dry gear should you become immersed.

So, back on course, I was doing my husbandly duty, accompanying my wife to TJ Maxx, when she said “Hey, have you thought about looking here for that stuff you’re looking for?”   I sneared “Here?  I doubt it!”  But she was already headed for the mens clothing section where low and behold there were base layers hanging on the wall.  From Terramar and Weatherproof .  Wow.  I was shocked.  Further looking revealed wool and techinical fabric socks from Cabelas (Hunting and Hiking), Smartwool, Icebreaker, Woolrich, Heat Holders, and Darn Tough.     On subsequent trips I found $250 hunting bibs from Underarmor for sale for $129, and stuff from Avalanche Wear and Carhartt, equally discounted.  I have’t seen waders yet, but I am looking.

They have layaway for those on a bidget, or even less.  So if you want to get out in the outdoors this winter and just don’t have the money to buy from the big usual outdoor retailers give TJ Maxx a look.  They have gear that you can use for anything from fishing in the wilderness to jogging in the city.  I should have known.  I got my Underarmor beanie hat there last year.


When knife and gun people talk about knives certain names come up over and over again. Wal Mart, and Ozark Trail are not normally among them. When knife and gun people talk about knives the price range is extensive. Knives under $10, or even under $5 are not normally among them. $1 knives are anathema to any such discussion.

Cheap Knives Clip Side 06/07/2011

Cheap Knives Clip Side 06/07/2011

Yet, as someone who owns, carries, and uses knives regularly my most commonly carried and used knives cost me between $1 and $10, and are no name, re branded, or Ozark Trail knives from Wal Mart. Why use inexpensive knives? Well, a number of reasons. Last year I lost a knife in the garden. It still hasn’t turned up. It had sentimental value that far exceeded it’s commercial value, but it wasn’t a cheap knife. It is no longer produced so I cannot replace it. I recently lost the $1 Wal Mart knife in the pictures, also in the garden. I felt a lot less bad about it than the other one.

Cheap Knives Side View 06/07/2011

Cheap Knives Side View 06/07/2011

Another reason is that knives get used hard. I use them to open boxes, cut plastic, cut tape, pry out staples, pry up metal retaining bars on fence posts, and do a number of other things. The knife that I lost year had a notch in it because I used it cut a Jerusalem Artichoke plant. I would have felt a lot less bad if I had notched a $1 Wal Mart knife.

Knives also get loaned out. Sometimes they don’t come back. Isn’t it better to have a cheap knife to loan than an expensive, rare, or important one? Inexpensive knives may be the only knives someone can afford. Having a $1 or $8 knife beats the hell out of no knife at all.

Cheap Knives Open 06/07/2011

Cheap Knives Open 06/07/2011

So far my cheap knives have held up well. They have done everything I have needed them to do. They have not bent or broken, or lost their edge. Do I own other better and more expensive knives? Sure. But I don’t carry them as often or use them as heavily as the cheap knives.

The knives in these pictures are from left to right: a generic chinese made knife rebranded as Winchester from a $10 Wal Mart gift set that had several other items in it, an $8 Ozark Trail knife, a generic Chinese made spring assist knife common at gun shows and flea markets, and a $1 no name Wal Mart knife.  All are lockblades, with the first 3 being liner locks, and the last being a typical old fashioned lockback.  The plain $1 lockback on the right gets the most use.

Knives were the first tool developed by humans. The knife marks the beginning of human civilization, the beginning of the historical record. A knife is the oldest human artifact ever found by archeaologists. The knife has stayed with us throughout our history. In any and every age people owned, used, and carried knives.

We use knives for an almost limitless number of purposes. Everyone should have a knife on them at all times. In fact, according to the rule of three you should have three knives. I have not mentioned the Rule of 3 in a while so here it is again: Rule of 3 – You can live 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. Always have 3 sources of light, 3 sources of fire, and 3 knives. You may not want to carry 3 knives, but to not have a knife at all is simply inhuman.

Gear Review: Zippo Lighter

When it comes to lighters you have two choices, refillable or disposable. Refillables also come in two types, liquid, and gas. The gas refillables use presurized aerosol cans of butane. They are not really any better than disposables in terms of savings and utility. If the butane is not available you are pretty much screwed. They also have problems with leaking gas, and with deformation of their fill nozzles which can easily render them useless. That is why I long ago dispensed with them, and went with liquid refillable lighters and disposables. While disposable lighters are common, inexpensive, and should be a part of every emergency kit, a refillable lighter is also worth considering.

Refillable Lighters Closed 06/07/2011

Refillable Lighters Closed 06/07/2011

The Zippo company, in Bradford PA is the largest, oldest, and most famous manufacturer of refillable lighters in the U.S. Their windproof lighters are basic simple mechanical devices that rarely, if ever fail. There are other makers, and even no name generics, but the quality is not the same. However they all seem to be copies of Zippo lighters, and use the Zippo lighter supplies. If you are going to get a refillable lighter, get a Zippo.

The advantages of a refillable lighter are many. It is, of course, refillable. Once a disposable lighter is empty it’s empty. You can’t do anything with it but throw it away. A refillable lighter can continue to be refilled indefinately. Reillable lighters are supposed to be used with only the recommended lighter fluid. But over the years people in difficult situations have filled them with gas, aviation fuel, charcoal lighter fluid, coleman fuel, benzene (naptha), rubbing alcohol, booze, and even cologne. In a prolonged outage of services you could keep using the refillable lighter with almost any flammable liquid that you can get your hands on.

Refillable Lighters Open 06/07/2011

Refillable Lighters Open 06/07/2011

Most refillable lighters, and especially Zippo lighters, have a wind screen. They will ignite in wind, and even in rain as long as they aren’t totally soaked. They also use a wick, and so remain lit until extinguished. This means that they can be used like a candle in an emergency. All the refillable lighters that I have seen are metal. They are durable and will stand up to tough use and abuse.

Refillable Lighters Close Up 06/07/2011

Refillable Lighters Close Up 06/07/2011

Refillable lighters also produce a bigger spark than disposables, due to the large flint and the steel wheel. So even if you run out of anything to fuel it, it can still be used as a fire starting aid. Just like an ancient flint and steel. People have used dryer lint, cotton balls, tissue, dried leaves, old bark, and piles of dried grass as tender to start a fire from a spark from an empty refillable lighter. Anything dry, highly flammable, and small can be used as tinder.

Zippo And Supplies 06/07/2011

Zippo And Supplies 06/07/2011

The downsides to refillable lighters are that they require supplies and are more expensive initially. You have to fill them with lighter fluid. While any flammable liquid will generally work, using anything but the recommended lighter fluid will void your warranty. So don’t experiment with anything else until you absolutely have to. In an emergency the warranty will be the least of your concerns, but until it would be nice to have free or cheap repairs and replacement if anything does go wrong. You have to replace the flint when it wears down. The flint is held in a metal tube that goes up through the body of the lighter. A spring and metla plunger apply tension to it to keep it pressed against the steel wheel. And once in a while you will also have to change the wick. This is similar to a candle wick, and in a crisis candle wicks or even some string or cord could be used instead. Again, until it is absolutely nessecary to do otherwise, use the recommended wicks.

Zippo Fluid 06/07/2011

Zippo Fluid 06/07/2011

The lighter fluid currently runs about $1.50 for a 4 ounce can. According to people who use their lighters a lot a 4 ounce can of fluid will last about 6 or 7 months. They report that they have to refill their lighters about once a week. If you don’t use yours that often then both the fluid in the lighter and the can should last you a lot longer. If you do not often use your lighter it is recommended that you not fill it, as the fluid will evaporate from the lighter eventually. There is a larger can of fluid available, but I have not priced it.

The fuel is basically naptha, or benzene. However other additives or substances in the mixture are not know. Anyway at the prices it sells for it is easy to stock a couple of cans. That should last you a year if you use your lighter daily. If you rarely use it, and don’t even fill it until needed then that may well be a lifetime supply.

Zippo Flints 06/07/2011

Zippo Flints 06/07/2011

Flints currently cost $0.79 for a pack of 6. Heavy users report having to change flints about once a month. So for less than $1 you get a 6 month supply. At that price and considering their small size you could easily have a pack of flints in your emergency bag, your home emergency kit, and your vehicle emergency kit. That would give you more than a year of flints for cheap. There is also a larger pack of flints, which I have not priced. I believe it is a 12 pack, as it is about double the size of the 6 flint pack.

Zippo Wick 06/07/2011

Zippo Wick 06/07/2011

Heavy users report that they have to replace the wick about once a year. Wicks vary widely in price from $1.50 to $3.00. That isn’t too expensive to have one in your emergency bag, your home emergency kit, and your vehicle emergency kit. As mentioned in a crisis you could probably replace a wick with something else. But with all of the stories I”ve read of people using alternatives fuels, I have never read of anyone even needing to replace a wick or flint and having to improvise. I guess they either are easy to find even in desperate times, or else they so rarely wear out that the crisis has passed by the time they need to be replaced.

Anyway, for less than $5 or $10 you could have several years worth of Zippo supplies on hand. And that is where the long term savings come in. While Zippo’s are more expensive initially, in the long run they are actually cheaper if you use lighters frequently. And as mentioned previously, they will last indefinately with minor resupply.

Plus Zippo lighters are just plain cool. I’ve used them for years off and on, and never had one break or fail. I’ve subjected them to some pretty tough abuse and the worst thing that ever happened was that one lid became misaligned and this caused the fluid to evaporate faster. I highly recommend having a Zippo lighter for every day use, and in each of your emergency kits.

Wind Light And Attachments Closed

Wind Light And Attachments Closed

Lights are a very important item to have whether at home, in a vehicle, or in an emergency bag.  Spelunkers and survivalists prefer to have at least three sources of light.  Hence lights inclusion in the RULE OF THREES (You can live 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. Always have 3 sources of light, 3 sources of fire, and 3 knives) Batteries die, devices fail, things get dropped or lost or wet, and other accidents happen.

For spelunkers light is life.  Getting out of a cave in the dark is almost impossible.  Especially if you are very deep inside. Spelunkers always carry a minimum of three sources of light with different power sources. For the rest of us light is nessecary because we use our eyes as our primary sense.  And it is dark for half of everyday.  So whether it is for major disaster, minor power outages and night time car breakdowns, or seeing what that thing is way back under the couch, everyone can use a good light.

Wind Light And Attachments Open

Wind Light And Attachments Open

But lights often get left in bags, packs, closets, drawers, and trunks until needed. One may find when they pull out their light that the batteries have died while it was sitting there. One way around this is a light that recharges itself. These tend to come in two varieties:wind up, and shake. I haven’t used any of the shake lights because I heard from others that were not very good. Instead I went for the wind up lights.

This particular model is a generic Chinese made light popular with promotional branding and imprint companies. These are companies from whom you can buy neat little useful knick kncacks with your brand on them to give out as promotional items. Our lights were branded by Totes, and were used in a promotion. Afterward the one’s they hadn’t given away sat aroud until Kohl’s put them on the discount rack, and there we found them.

Wind Light LEDs

Wind Light LEDs

The lights have a lever on the side that can be folded openned or closed. Winding this lever chargers the light. A few minutes of winding provides light for a few minutes. The longer you wind it the longer it will last. There are four LEDs and two switches. One switch turns on the center two LEDs, and the other turns on the outer two LEDs. Obviously it will last longer with only two LEDs being used, but turning on all 4 gives you a lot of light. The lights also have a lanyard, which can be useful.

Self charging lights are essentially little generators, and this opens up some other possibilities. These have an outlet in the side and an adapter cable that attatches to it. The other end of the adapter accepts a variety of cell phone charger attachments allowing you to recharge your cell phone from the light. I have used this feature a few times, and while I wouldn’t want to totally recharge a cell phone this way it is certainly easy to get enough juice for an emergency phone call. That is what it is for. Emergency use. One of the attacjments is the small variety USB connection, and this opens up the possibility of recharging all sorts of other devices. With USB to USB (size changeing) adapters you could potentially recharge any USB device.

We got these lights about 4 or 5 years ago, and I have used them extensively. They continue to work, charge, hold a charge, and provide a lot of light. I’ve carried them in the car, and in my backpack and they have stood up to the abuse. They work well. We paid less than $10 for them.

The downside is that it does take a lot of winding if you want the charge to last very long. For prolonged use you would need to wind for a minimum of 10 minutes and that gets tiring. You can wind while they are in use. More expensive models, many of which include an emergency radio, have more eficient generators and require less winding to produce more charge. It would be more accurate to characterize many of the more expensive models as a wind up radio that also has a light. Anyway, for what we paid and the limited duration of use we need them for, I have found these to be quite useful.

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