Improvised Gear


Ice Axe by Caribou Designs, located in the Wrangell Mountains, AK.
Usefull for snow arrests, climbing muddy banks, and snagging in brush.
Retail: $0.00, plus travel.

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Garbage Bags
Garbage bags are one of the most versatile pieces of wilderness equipment out there. Size, opacity, and durability are all important qualities to consider.

Waterproofing via Garbage Bags. Garbage bags present a slew of gear-waterproofing options. Among them are:

Garbage Bags Demand Vigilance.
Eventually, your garbage bags will get holes in them. You can tape these, but you'll need to check the bag regularly to know if the holes are there. Inevitably, your stuff will get wet from time to time. If you NEED it to stay dry, consider some sort of drybag, real or improvised.

Super-Duty Bags.
Lightweight garbage bags are great for most applications, but if you foresee using your garbage bag regularly and don't won't to be wasteful, consider using a superduty ďAlaskaĒ bag. These superheavy garbage bags are made of heavy (?visqueen?). A good place to look for them is in airports, were they're sometimes available free for packaging backpacks for airline flights. These bags can endure rough use and last through many trips. You can also use it as patch material, a tarp, or - in a real pinch - a flotation device.

Clear vs. Opaque
We generally find clear bags more desirable for a few reasons:

Opaque bags, however, add a touch of class for formal occasions. This reminds us of a haiku written by Ian Haynes, Beyond Spec's Human Resources Specialist, touching lightly on their virtues:

Oregon Prom Dress -

How many gallons is yours?

Should I wear shoes?

Waste
The big downside of using garbage bags too much is their limited lifespan, which can lead to a lot of waste. This makes us feel bad.

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Improvised Utensils & Crockery
Chopsticks, spoons, and skewers can be made from all sorts of things. In fact, the fact that we regularly forget to bring utensils on our little misadventures is a source of great fun. Never make utensils out of a plant or item that you know to be poisonous. One of our associates once spent a week eating off a pair of bifocals he found in the middle of the trail. In a not-so-merry event, another friend cooked pasta in a beer can he found.

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The Hobo Stove

Beyond Spec's Hypothermia Researcher huddles next to a barrel stove,
a larger equivalent of the personal hobo stove.

The Hobo Stove has a long and colorful history, and exists in myriad variations. At heart, it's pretty simple: take a can, such as a 1-gallon coffee can. Punch holes around the bottom of the can. These are your chimney-holes. Snip an opening in one side of the can, extending, say... halfway down the side. The opening should be large enough to insert sticks, pinecones, etc. through. Set the can upside down, over a large candle or a very small fire. Voila! You have a one-burner stove.

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The Chunk of Aluminum Wire

Bretwood Higman, Beyond Specís Chief Metallurgist, swears by a strange little hunk of aluminum wire, citing the following uses:

Logic would suggest a coathanger has similar virtues. Additionally, the small diameter of coathanger wire makes its suitable for heating, and then burning cauterized holes through gore-tex, nylon, bark, and similar substances. Logic would also suggest that Bretwood Higman is off his rocker.

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Cordage
Without getting into the art of wrapping cordage out of plant fibers (for information on this, we recommend survival manuals like "Tom Brown's ..."), suffice to say that there's a little quick-and-dirty cord out there if you really need some. If you want to get more involved in cordage making, there's a ton of great, often beauiful natural fibers, like cedar, yucca, cattail, and dogbane.

Roots: The best quickie cord out there that we've found is roots. Cedar, banyan, spruce, pine, and other trees can have exceptional roots: long, supple, and durable. It's easiest to look in stream cuts, especially where recent flooding has exposed the roots of trees, or in landslides. Test them in your hand, feeling for flexibility, then cut off a root of the required length and thickness. If the root seems to dry and brittle, you can soak it for a few hours in water, and it should soften up.

Remember, a root is part of a living organism. Take roots sparingly, and consider the impact your actions might have. We prefer to gather roots that are no longer feeding the plant, such as those exposed by a flood.

Modern Sources: we've had good luck with electrical wiring, folded tape, and our shoelaces. Some fabrics, such as ripstop nylon, can be cut into acceptable cord. On beaches near major fisheries, you stand a good chance of finding fragments of lightweight fishing line, fishnets, and heavy fishing rope (called "line" as well, but differentiated here) of the sort used by commercial fishing boats. The heavy rope is stiff and often difficult to work with, but is tremendously strong and can sometimes be separated into its constituent strands.

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