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What tools, products, or companies do you recommend?
The first post of many. I'm very interested in quality goods.
I enjoy reliable and useful products. (Probably why I have an appreciation for tools—it’s obvious when they work well. And when they don’t.)
I also really value the idea of voting with my dollar.
Where I spend that money (usually a daily activity) is likely my greatest social impact. Especially when it comes to actively supporting a small business. Not buying something from Walmart likely means little to them, but patronizing my neighborhood shop, or purchasing from a maker that employs only a dozen people, truly does have effect.
I appreciate the idea of domestic and local manufacturing, admire passionate and skilled craftspeople, and enjoy having a connection to where my goods came from. The ability to speak directly to a manufacturer, rather than a call center, is pretty nice too.
So, when I’m able and it makes sense, I try to be intentional about supporting businesses that are doing it right, and haven’t yet sacrificed quality for growth.
With that in mind, I want to use this space to occasionally highlight a handful of products, tools, or companies which I’ve found to be notably useful or reliable. They won’t all be from boutique makers, but of course all the better if they happen to fit the aforementioned ethos.
Silky is a Japanese manufacturer that’s been around in one form or another for about a hundred years. Broadly speaking, Japan embodies a manufacturing culture that relies on attentive quality standards to maintain their competitive edge, rather than ever lowering labor costs. Silky saws are no exception.
I carry a BigBoy 2000 in my truck. (Please don’t judge me, or it, by its name.) I’ve found it to be the right size for maximum capability, while maintaining reasonable (vehicle) stowability. I keep it in there for pruning, cutting firewood (I have a small axe as well, but small axes and hatches are for splitting and saws are for cutting, if you can help it), and for clearing fallen trees that might be blocking my way into (or, more importantly, out of) backcountry forest roads. (That saw is available in a few different tooth sizes. I use XL teeth, as I’m generally cutting green softwoods.)
When not in a vehicle, I’ve veered more compact and carried smaller models of their folding saws. I’ve also used their belt-hung fixed blades for arborists' work. But you don’t have to go small just because you’re on foot—Molly and I recently ran into a guy hiking trails in Marin after a weekend of storms with a monstrous Silky Katana slung across his back, clearing fallen trees like a human-powered chainsaw.
If you’re a woodworker and enjoy Japanese pull saws, you might consider a folding one to tuck into your kit. I currently have this one, but here’s Silky’s take on it. I’ve also occasionally relied on a their small folding saws with extra fine teeth, and thin kerfs, which are more compact and work quite well for carpentry.
Great Down Products
Just to get this out of the way… well made down—like, down jackets, sleeping bags, quilts, etc—costs a lot of money. Amply filled, ethically sourced down, costs even more. So, be prepared for some sticker shock.
Feathered Friends. I own an Eos jacket. It's a great light to middleweight down jacket if you’re looking for something a bit thicker than a micro-puff. Molly has a Helios, which has ALL of the poof. Our bed’s comforter is FF as well, and it’s a dream.
They’ve been making high quality down products in Seattle since the early 1970’s. They care about where they source their down and have a small-scale attention to detail that larger, off-shored manufacturers can’t.
Western Mountaineering. Similar concept as FF. They're a small California manufacturer that have been making the highest quality jackets, sleeping bags, and other down products for 50 years. I own a Meltdown Jacket and it’s a hell of a garment.
Enlightened Equipment. Back when we bought our Itasca quilt, Tim was basically a one man shop. Now he has 50 employees at his facility in Minnesota. Great shop for custom work. We use our quilt every time we camp and it’s performed well in pretty tough conditions. (Our record low while camping with it has been 7° Fahrenheit.) It’s been the perfect solution for our desire to have a 10 degree queen-sized down comforter, but in a light-weight and durable sleeping bag material built for outdoor use.
Opposite end of the price spectrum from down jackets. You can buy one on Amazon for $14 or so, but the real pro move is to buy them in bulk, direct from China, via AliExpress. I purchased 25 of them for less than a dollar each.
What the hell is it?
It’s a collapsible tapered tube that allows you to blow air on coals to start or stoke a fire. That focused air supercharges your campfire into a blast furnace, getting temperatures high enough to overcome damp wood or other lackluster conditions. You know the mild improvements you see from fanning the flames with a magazine, or burying your face in the smoke and huffing and puffing? This is exponentially more effective. Makes you look like a wizard, coaxing fire from the humblest of coals. Works well on the woodstove at home as well.
So why did I buy 25? Couple reasons. They can break. Or get lost. But mostly it’s because I keep giving them away. Friends who haven’t used them before are always amazed by their effectiveness, so it’s nice to have a stash in my camping bin that I can gift on the spot.
If you know of (or produce) a product you think I should be aware of, please, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.
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