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A Budget Overlander, Part II – With the necessary capability upgrades sorted, our focus shifted to protecting the soft underbelly of the Forester. Subaru did a fine job keeping most of the vehicle’s components tucked even with the frame rails, but not so well offering skid plates for the vulnerable oil pan, transmission and rear differential. Fortunately, the simplistic design of the chassis makes aftermarket protection both affordable and easy to install. I have a confession to make: when I accepted this assignment I had serious doubts. Before this project I had never thought of a Subaru as anything more than gravel-flinging fun. I found the idea of a mere Forester attacking moderate trails laughable, and I pushed forward expecting to gain little more than a rally-inspired softroader. During a recent trip over the Mojave Road the little Foz shattered all doubts with it’s nimble capability. In the sand and washboard it was the speed demon we expected, cruising along comfortably at around 50mph. On the rocky hill climb after Fort Piute, a trail which rates nearly a 3 after recent storms, it was shockingly unstoppable. We managed to run the entire 140-mile trail in under 24 hours (sight-seeing and camping included) without a single issue. Primitive Racing There are two big names in the Subaru off-pavement aftermarket, but Primitive Racing is the only manufacturer to offer comprehensive protection for the SG Forester (model year 2003-2009). Their full armor package includes three thick aluminum skid plates which provide ample protection to the most vulnerable areas on the undercarriage for about $500. The front skid plate is formed like an upside-down 3/16ths hood, and provides complete protection for the bottom of the entire engine bay. Integrated vents allow for airflow, and options are available for an extra-length “stinger tail” and oil drain plug/filter access ports (we opted to skip the access ports for the best possible protection). Installation is extremely easy: remove the factory mud shield, then install the new skid plate onto the pre-existing threaded holes in the frame. Removing the plate for service is an even simpler four-bolt process. The 4EAT transmission skid plate takes a little more thought to install: an area on the forward corner of the plate is pre-notched for easy removal, as some Subaru exhaust systems can interfere with the plate (ours did). Otherwise, installation is fairly straightforward using existing bolts on the transmission housing. Ample venting is provided, as is a convenient opening to access the drain plug. The rear skid plate is the most difficult… Protection
A Budget Overlander, Part I – My first introduction to Subaru was a rally-ready “bugeye” WRX I happened upon while visiting a Jeep dealership many years back. It looked like a blast to drive, but I was too wrapped up in the rock crawling thing to give it a second thought. Somehow, that bugeye stuck in the back of my mind, and years later when Scott asked if I’d like to take over the ExPo Forester project I immediately thought “oooh, FUN!” It’s All Yours, Now Make It Go The first order of business on our little project was to get the vehicle running. The 2003 Forester had been flogged hard for the first 100,000 miles of it’s life, and the rebuilt EJ251 motor sourced to replace the original motor turned out to have the exact same problem—disintegrated bearings. Our little project was not off to a good start, but clinging tight to Subaru’s reputation for reliability we pressed on. With a little help from our friends at AT Overland I was able to pull the motor and tear it down for rebuilding, then build it back up on the new block over two weekends. The post-rebuild fine tuning tasks such as adjusting the valves and replacing the broken valve guide rod proved simple enough to do in an afternoon. Replacement parts for the EJ251 motor are both cheap and readily available. Do I still recommend the vehicle as a budget-minded overlander, after putting in the work to get the car running? Absolutely: it’s very easy to work on with a minimal tool kit and little knowledge, a valuable trait for any adventure vehicle to have. I have complete confidence I’d be able to find and fix any problem I’m likely to encounter in the field. Note: I am not a mechanic—this was my first experience with anything more complicated than a fluid change. The Most Boring Fun Car I’ve Ever Driven I’d be lying if I said the Forester was nothing but fun. Driving the twisting mountain roads outside Prescott, tires squealing out in pain through the torture of every turn is fun; launching over cattle guards at foolish speeds is fun; drifting around dusty backroad switchbacks is fun. But when it’s parked, it is one of the most generic looking vehicles ever created… A tastefully built-up SG Forester is a true sleeper. Simple, subtle, and unassuming in it’s appearance; devoid of anything flashy that… Capability
The Moka Pot – It’s Overland Journal’s fault. I’ve long appreciated the pleasures of the morning coffee ritual, an easy vice to maintain in the city, but one that is typically tolerable at best in camp. Working in an office with a well-stocked espresso bar has sharpened the addiction to such a point the instant solutions often served tent-side simply won’t do. As Scott Brady reflected while showing me how to work the espresso machine “Life’s too short for bad coffee.” Espresso is without a doubt the ultimate form of coffee, imbued with three key features we strive to find in our gear: versatility, durability, and performance. It’s concentrated nature makes for the maximum quantity on a minimum of water, with the right tools it’s nearly impossible to ruin espresso, and from espresso you can make practically any coffee drink (including the good ole hot cup of joe—just add water). Thanks to Luigi de Ponti, espresso can be a hassle- and mess-free pleasure in camp. Most commonly used on the stovetop at home, the Moka pot is equally capable of brewing on the trail with a backpacking stove, larger camp stove, or even over charcoal with care. Unlike the variety of portable espresso makers out there, the Moka doesn’t require special fuels, tools, or filters. In fact, you only need three things to run a Moka: water, fire, and coffee grounds. The Moka pot isn’t picky about the type of grounds you feed it either. A fine grind (slightly more coarse than espresso) works best, but even “percolator ground” beans will yield an excellent (though weaker) result. Espresso purists may point out that a Moka pot is incapable of reaching the precise 9 bar of pressure required for “true” espresso, but the end result is indistinguishable. Use is simple, just fill the base to the fill line with water (about an inch from the top), drop in the basket and fill it with grounds, then twist on the pot and place it over heat. In about five minutes you’ll have a pot of flavorful espresso. Clean up is just as easy—the brewing process tends to draw out most of the moisture, leaving a solid clump of grounds easily tapped out into the trash. Rinse out the few remaining grounds, dry the pot, and pack it away. The Moka is available as small as a 1-shot, but I find the 6-shot variety well worth the… Camp-spresso
Over the past several months I’ve been trapped in the seemingly endless search for that perfect balance between got-it-all, and the liberty got-it-all prevents in an “everyday” bag. You name it, I’ve carried it—from sleek and elegant Tumi to weighted-down MOLLE. Based on past experience, present occupation, and future aspirations I knew what I wanted in function: classic but subtle looks, comfort with convenience, and modularity without bulk. Finding a form that achieves this function proved a frustrating and exhausting challenge. It’s no secret that I love the products coming out of WaterField Design’s studio in San Francisco—their Ultimate SleeveCase continues to keep my iPad in pristine condition. I had never given their larger bags any serious consideration for fear that their simplistic approach to on-the-go storage would blend my kit, set adrift in the huge pockets, into a jumbled pile of chaos. After a month-long trial run with their signature bag, the Cargo (small), I’m pleased to report this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Quite the opposite has happened—my bag is now more organized and easily reconfigurable than ever, and with room left over to expand my everyday kit. Features and Organization At the core of the Cargo’s design is it’s slightly non-rectangular shape, which gifts the bag with a seemingly magical ability to swallow up gear while simultaneously making it easier to load and unload. Access to gear is quick and easy, and most pockets feature a bright orange “Gold Diamond” lined interior to aid in locating the contents. Where appropriate, cord-pull zippers provide a smooth opening, and zippers in more vulnerable locations are spring-loaded to keep them securely shut and out of the way. The outside of the bag features three pockets: a phone pocket at one end, a rear pocket which fits WaterField’s Cableguy (medium) perfectly, and a slip pocket on the flap. The phone pocket is sized ample enough to fit even the largest of modern phones, while still being small enough not to lose smaller phones (yes, it also fits the new iPhone 5). Alternately, it also comfortably carries a modestly-sized flashlight and multitool. The rear pocket has a velcro closure, and features a bottom-zip to allow slipping the bag over the handle of rolling carry-on luggage. The slip pocket on the flap is perfect for carrying a notepad or other slim items. Releasing the slick paragliding buckle from the leather flap reveals… The WaterField Cargo
I have to admit, when I was first handed the GearPods® Wilderness emergency kit for evaluation I chuckled. Decades of testing, reviewing, and custom-tailoring such kits have left me with a bias against “off-the-shelf survival”, and the bold packaging complete with photos of extreme adventuring did little to counter this prejudice. As I’m not one to judge a book by its cylindrical plastic cover, I set aside my first impression and dove into the kit with an open mind. Read the review on Expedition Portal »… Review: GearPods® Wilderness Link: Expedition Portal
The iPad has continued to evolve as an essential piece of travel kit, mastering everything from navigation to photo editing, but cases for carrying the mighty ‘Pad are often devoid of style, functionality, durability, and protective ability. Enter the SleeveCase from WaterField Designs—a thick neoprene-cushioned pocket wrapped up in rugged ballistic nylon. The SleeveCase features a soft Ultrasuede® interior which doubles as an automatic screen cleaner, impact-resistant inserts in the walls to protect the screen, and checkpoint-friendly construction. There’s also a slim pocket on the back for papers, a camera connection kit, or a slim charger. Options include natural leather trim and convenient detachable shoulder straps for hands-free carry. The case is durable and well made, with beautiful styling and excellent attention to detail. Check out the SleeveCase line and other fine gear by WaterField Designs at SFbags.com »… WaterField SleeveCase
The Swiss Army Ranger Stove is without a doubt one of the original “ultra light” cooking options. Compact, versatile, and easy to use, it continues to be a quintessential part of the classic kitchen kit. The complete package fits nicely into many of the “one liter” bottle carriers and pockets commonly available. Dry weight is a mere 15.2 ounces in the stove’s stock form, not bad for a pot/cup, 1-liter bottle, and stove. For comparison the weight of an empty Hydroflask 21-ounce bottle is 20.9 ounces. Additionally, if weight and space are of primary concern, one can forgo the bottle altogether and stuff the stove full of provisions and/or fuel. Without any bottle, the stove and cup/pot weigh in at 9.9 ounces. All testing was conducted outdoors, in the shade, on a windless day with an ambient temperature of 40°F. The water used in the test was left outside overnight to simulate realistic camping conditions. During the test, the included pot/cup was filled to the half-liter line. Testing was performed three times with each type of fuel, and the final score is an average of the results. Trioxane / Hexamine Tablets Trioxane was the fastest heating fuel tested, and brought the cold water to boiling in a mere six-and-a-half minutes. This was quite surprising considering this fuel’s dim blue flame and minimal ambient heat. The downside to trioxane is it’s highly toxic nature, the aforementioned low ambient heat and light, and the extremely nasty mess it leaves behind. It is strongly recommended that you wash your hands after handling the fuel, and it would be a good idea to place the tabs on a sheet of foil for easier clean-up. Two bars of fuel were consumed by each test with consistent results: the first bar heated the water hot enough for tea, but failed to reach boiling; and the second bar sent the water into a Jetboil-gone-mad style, dangerously violent boil. The tablet-style fuel is much better suited to this stove than the bars. Wood, Twigs and Grass A combination of twigs and kindling (grass) wrapped up in palm-sized bundles was used for the wood test to ensure a good, consistent burn. This is the recommended method of fueling the stove when using wood as it generates an optimal amount of heat without overheating the stove, burns fairly efficiently, and is easy to clean up. Boiling was achieved in a… Swiss Army Stove