Mosquito and Midge Repellents

mossieIt’s inevitable that at certain times of year, you’re going to find yourself visited by unwelcome guests while camping. Mosquitos and midges… not my friends!

A number of things will help keep these little critters away from you. Wood smoke works fine, but only if you’re sat in a cloud of it… watering eyes, a running nose and choking isn’t my idea of relaxation. There’s no shortage of wearable mosquito netting, hats and so on, but they’re not for me. I want to smoke a fag, eat and have a drink without navigating a netting yashmak. A decent repellent is therefore a necessity.

So what are your choices?

Deet based Repellents

Deet is an insecticide applied to the skin. Scary? Only if you’re somewhat gullible and follow Facebook wall posts, believing them to be scientific. Deet is generally quite safe to use, has been subject to numerous studies, and while reactions are possible, they’re extremely rare. Peanuts are more dangerous. A study in Thailand into the effects of Deet on babies born to pregnant women found no health risks (you can see the study here). Doctors recommend the use of Deet as it’s highly effective repellent. You’ll find one or two studies which raise concerns that a small number of deaths or neurological reactions may be due to Deet, but this has to be weighed against the approximate 200,000,000 people using Deet each year and 8billion applications since the 1950s.

In 2014, the US Environment Protection Agency conducted a review of Deet use and health risks. It found that a third of the population of the United States use products containing Deet, and concluded it does not present a health risk to adults or children.

A reaction is possible, but very rare. Use it sensibly:

  • Do not spray or apply to cuts;
  • Do not spray on the hands or around the mouths of young children;
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas and avoid inhaling;
  • Keep the bottle out of reach of young children;
  • Do not spray on plastic or synthetic material (as it can melt it… this includes your hammock, bug netting and tarp!!!).

Products using Deet include Jungle Juice, a very popular midge repellent. The one linked contains 50% Deet.

Avon Skin So Soft

An alternative to Deet is Avon’s Skin So Soft product. I know many locals in Cumbria who swear by it as a midge repellent (and the midges here are evil, similar to the ones found in Scotland which can creep through all bar noseeum netting).

A study has compared Deet (in concentrations of 95%) with Skin So Soft Bath Oil and a placebo. Skin So Soft did remarkably well, being 85% as effective as a highly concentrated Deet solution which was more concentrated than many commercially available insect repellents. It also makes your skin soft!

Now a word of caution as not all Skin So Soft products are the same or contain the same ingredients. To have worth as an insect repellent, you want ones which include citronella or picaridin (hence some people say Skin So Soft works wonders, while others get bitten). Picaridin is a synthetic compound

Repellents in Nature

If you’re walking in Scotland or other parts of the British Isles, watch out for the plant bog myrtle (a traditional midge repellent). It’s a shrub which can grow up to two metres tall. Bog myrtle can also be bought as an essential oil. Be aware that it can cause skin irritation for some people.

Remember, just because something is a ‘natural’ repellent rather than a man made one doesn’t mean it’s safe. They’re all chemically based, and arsenic is a natural substance found in apple seeds!

 

 

 

 

 

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Hammock Suspension: Make your own whoopie slings

dyneemaLet me introduce you to a magical cord made from a substance called Dyneema. It’s used in both hammock and tarpaulin suspension.

Dyneema is incredibly strong, pre-stretched, packs very small, is very light, and even better, durable. With these qualities, it’s probably the most popular material for suspending a hammock, as the cord most commonly used is only 2.5mm thick (and light enough to float on water). You may come across a product called Amsteel-Blue. This is the name of cord or rope made from Dyneema (it comes in different colours, but it’s still called Amsteel-Blue). For those of you who don’t like metric measurements, 2.5mm is the same as 7/64th of an inch.

Cord used for suspending hammocks needs to be low stretch, and have a load bearing weight which is significantly greater than the weight of the item that it needs to support (YOU!). The cord has to cope with shocks and strains caused by you moving about and getting in and out of your hammock. A good rule of thumb is the cord should have a minimum load strength which is 5 times your body weight. 2.5mm Dyneema braid has a minimum load strength equivalent to 1,400lbs (635kg).

2.5mm is suitable for people up to a weight of around 20 stone (127 kg). If you’re heavier, consider 3mm thick Dyneema/Amsteel-Blue, which should be fine for people up to 33 stone (209kg).

An example of an unsuitable material for hammock suspension is paracord. US military paracord has a load rating of 550lbs, but stretches! Chinese paracord can be weaker. Stretching causes additional weakness, which can end with a rather painful meeting with the ground. Paracord is suitable for suspending a tarpaulin (using it as a ridge line) but be aware it does stretch so you may find your tarpaulin sagging a little in the morning. Again, we really don’t recommend paracord for hammock suspension.

Whoopie Slings: These are adjustable cords which you use to suspend your hammock. The video below shows whoopie slings being fitted to a hammock, and shows how easy it is to adjust their length.

 

You can buy whoopie slings from companies like DD Hammocks, or if you wish make your own. DD Hammocks also sell Dyneema braid, and their price is the lowest we’ve found in the UK (email us if you find cheaper!). They sell 2.5mm braid for only £0.99 a metre.

The video below shows how to make your own whoopie slings. You don’t need shop bought specialist tools although some people use them. The tools I use are a size 5 knitting needle, a length of thin garden wire and a pair of kitchen scissors. It’s not hard!

 

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Finding North

There are a few ways to find north without a compass, gadgets or technology. Knowledge you’ll probably never need, but if you’re out in the woods, get lost and don’t have a compass, it may stop hours of wandering about.

Moss on Treesmoss

Given you’re likely to find yourself in woodland (unless you sleep in a hammock on the ground?!?), you may try relying on a common belief that mosses are more likely to grow on the north side of trees because the north side will receive less sunlight (and so be cooler and more damp than the south side). Mosses like damp, shady habitats, not unlike people from Manchester.

Be warned that I’ve found myself in some woods where everything is covered in moss, and others where the species of tree seems one that mosses simply don’t like. Worse, I’ve seen trees where the moss was only growing on the south side. If something else is giving the tree shade (like the tree next to it) this is creating those same shady conditions which mosses seems to prefer.

So how good a tip? I wouldn’t want to rely upon it.

The Sunstickcompass

You can make a simple compass using four sticks and the sun. Take a 2 feet long stick and poke one end in the ground. At the end of its shadow, place a marker (a small stick again pressed into the ground or a rock will do). 15 minutes later the shadow will have moved (ideally wait longer than 15 minutes for greater accuracy). Place another marker at the end of the new shadow. Lay a fourth stick between the two markers. This stick points from east to west, but which is east and which is west? Remember, the sun will cast shadows towards the north. Lay a fifth stick at a right angle across your east/west marker line, and the end pointing towards your shadow stick points south, and t’other end points north.

Reliable? Not indoors, nor at night time, in the fog, under dense tree cover or in driving rain. Otherwise… pretty good!

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west and as a rule of thumb, at 6am it’s to the east of you, and at 6pm it’s to the west. It’s roughly south-east at 9pm, due south at midday, and south-west at 3pm. Don’t take my word for it… test it out!

The Stars

starIt’s dark and I’m lost! While nature may let us down with the reliability of tree mosses, the North Star (Polaris) will reliably point you to the north unless there’s light pollution or it’s a cloudy night. Even better, the North Star is easy to find (although NOT the brightest star in the sky).

You may have noticed two groups of stars which look like saucepans (to me at least… always the food theme). These are the Big Dipper and Little Dipper constellations. The North Star is the last star in the ‘handle’ of the Little Dipper. A third constellation, Casseopeia (which looks like a ‘w’) is also useful to help locate the North Star in the sky.

The North Star can be found roughly in a straight line between the Big Dipper and Casseopeia. Even better, the outside edge of the pan shape on the Big Dipper points towards both the North Star and Casseopeia. Have a look at the image, which explains things more clearly.

Find the north star, then image a line straight down to the horizon. That’s north!

Using a Watchwatch

Remember, at midday if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, at midday, the sun is due south.

How do you tell where the North/South are when it’s not midday? Simple. You need a watch with an hour hand. Lay the watch flat on the palm of your hand. Turn around until the hour hand points in the direction of the sun. Work out the middle point on the dial between the hour hand and 12 o’clock (so if it was 4pm, this would be the 2pm mark). Run an imaginary line from that point to the centre of the watch face. This is your North/South line.

If you have a digital watch or tell the time using your phone (as I do), make out a watch face on a piece of paper or even on the ground with a stick.

A word of warning. If your watch is set to daylight saving time, you’ll need to make a minor change. Turn the watch until the hour hand is facing the sun as you did before, but work out the midway point between that and the 1 o’clock marker on the watch face instead of using the 12 o’clock marker.

We should probably add “don’t look directly at the sun”. [Ed: Do I really have to tell people this?]

Smartphone and App Based Compasses

Be careful as batteries die, the calibration goes skew-whiff.

The Good Old Compass

When I say good, it depends on quality, as some compasses are not good at all. Test it before you head off into the wilds as I’ve had ones before where the needle wobbles about and changes its mind!

There’s also a small risk in today’s world of gadgetry that the magnetic fields generated by mobile phones and similar electronics can reverse the compass needle polarisation. Just imagine your compass guiding you west when you think you’re going east!

One final word of warning… scientists predict that the earth’s magnetic poles will swap, although it’s unlikely to be in our lifetime 😉

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Risotto – Proper cooking on a camp stove!

Instant noodles make me think of that scene from Crocodile Dundee. “You can eat it, but it tastes like ….”. If you’re away for a single night, and tired after yomping and setting up camp, I’ll let you off, but what about that second night. Why not have a meal which is memorable for the right reasons?

With a little bit of creativity, time and imagination, you can eat extremely well with a small range of ingredients. You’re on holiday! Enjoy it!!

Risotto is a rice dish from northern Italy. You don’t boil the rice in water, but slowly add stock, ladle by ladle, until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. The rice becomes packed with flavour. You cook risotto in stages, and build the flavour, layer by layer. It’s another dish you can prepare without a fridge on hand!

For the stock, you’re unlikely to have a chicken carcass and plenty of fresh vegetables with you, so for a camping risotto, a good quality stock cube is a necessity! You need some form of fat to coat the rice before you start adding wet ingredients. Butter (for me) is best, but an extra-virgin olive oil is a practical alternative. This recipe below is my favourite risotto. It’s packed with flavour.

The recipe below is for 4 people (or 2 if you’re particularly hungry). Hell… it’s for two people, who am I trying to kid!

Ingredients:

  • 1 and a half cups of arborio rice.
  • 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Mushrooms (dried or fresh).
  • Half a chorizo ring.
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese.
  • 1 onion.
  • 1 glass of dry white wine.
  • 1 chicken stock cube.

Cooking in stages

The chorizo: Slice up the chorizo. I prefer mine fried with a little crunch, so cook these separately first. Chorizo releases oil (fat) when cooking, and can go a bit soggy and overpower the other ingredients if cooked with the risotto from the start, so I fry the slices first and put them to one side, then add them to the risotto to heat through towards the end of cooking.

The shrooms: If you’re using dried mushrooms (Tescos do a pack of Porcini, Chanterelle, Black Trumpet and Fairy Ring mushrooms for £2), these need to be blanched for 20 minutes in boiling water. Do this first, then drain and set to one side. The flavour is wonderful. Don’t waste that water though! Use it as the base for the stock.

The stock: Add more water to the saucepan used for boiling the mushrooms, until there’s roughly 5 cups in the pan. Then add the stock cube and dissolve, bringing the liquid to a boil. The stock is slowly added to the rice while the rice is cooking, so if you’ve only got one pot, you’ll need to decant it to an aluminium water bottle. If you have two pots, no problem. Stick a lid on it, or even better, if you’ve a campfire going, put the stock close enough to the edge of the fire to keep it warm (or on some coals!).

The risotto rice: Add two tablespoons of oil to an empty saucepan and heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to go clear. Pour the rice into the pan and fry the rice in the oil for no more than two minutes, stirring all the while. The rice will start to go clear. Gently stirring is important when cooking risotto. If you don’t, the rice will stick to the pan and burn. Add in the glass of wine, and continue stirring until the wine is absorbed/evaporated. This adds another layer of flavour to the risotto. Add the mushrooms.

Next, you add the stock… slowly. One ladle (or the equivalent) at a time. Your finished risotto should be creamy, not a soup! Continue stirring until the stock is absorbed by the rice, then add another. Continue until all the stock has been used, by which stage the rice should be ‘al-dente’. You don’t want the rice a dissolved mush, but to still have a little texture. If you’re unsure… taste it (but try not to finish it all during cooking, and especially if you’re cooking for others… as that’s considered ‘mean’).

Toss in the chorizo slices. Heat through for a couple of minutes. Add the grated parmesan and continue to stir until the parmesan is melted.

You’re looking at about an hour’s cooking time. Yes, it’s a faff, but oh so worth it. A comfortable seat is essential too!

Serve up, consume with the rest of the wine. Lie gently rocking in your hammock making little moans of pleasure. Replete is a good word… and such a worthy goal.

Packing Your Ingredients

You don’t want to carry unnecessary weight, and you can cut down on preparation time by doing the following:

  • Decant you olive oil into a smaller plastic bottle. Glass breaks and is heavier. Why carry oil which you won’t later use while away. Just take what you need.
  • Grate the parmesan before leaving home (you can also buy grated parmesan, but don’t use the stuff you find on the pasta aisle at your supermarket). Buy fresh if you can afford it. The processed parmesan in those little round pots with the consistency of sawdust doesn’t pack the same flavour as fresh.
  • Pre-measure out the ingredients into sealable freezer bags.

Carrying a bottle of wine… Now you could take a miniature bottle, and you can even buy wine in cans now. I say… to hell with it. Take a full bottle, or ideally two. The first you use for and while cooking. The second while eating.

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Cheese Stuffed Burger Dawgs

As with any idea from Youtube… experiment (and remember, everything’s better wrapped in bacon!).

We take this simple idea, of wrapping mince meat around a stick of cheddar cheese before barbecuing, and improve on it.

Make sure you season that mince. Chopped garlic, salt and black pepper’s essential. You also want mince with a good fat content for flavour. 85% lean is fine. If you can buy pepper jack cheese locally, we’d strongly recommend this for your cheesy filling. Can’t buy pepper jack locally? Then alongside your stick of cheddar, put finely diced fresh jalapeno. Add herbs and spices to the mince if you wish. A dash of chilli sauce. Swap mozzarella for the cheddar or why not try a bit of stilton instead. Play to your heart’s content!

 

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DD Hammocks: Hammock Range

There are seven reasons why we’re recommending DD Hammocks.

  • They’re a UK supplier, meaning you get UK based customer service;
  • We’ve tried the service personally, and it’s good. You get a quick response, they’re helpful and friendly;
  • The quality of their products is good and the products feature thoughtful design. We sleep in their products.
  • They’re inexpensive, and you don’t see quality compromised for price. There’s no point having a cheap hammock where midges climb through the mosquito netting, the hammocks and netting tears, or where the strapping breaks!
  • They have a wide range of accessories allowing you to spread the cost of building your ultimate hammock camping system.
  • Fast Delivery (when we purchased in the morning, we got our items next day).
  • If we recommend something, we don’t want our visitors upset. We feel confident with DD.

To see the full specification of DD’s hammocks, click on the green + buttons in the table below.

 

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Fire: Batteries and Gum

Scenario: You’ve had a long walk. You set up camp. You reach into your kit and find you’ve left your fire stick at home (or the flint goes on your lighter). You’re cold and hungry! What do you do!

If you’ve a torch which used AA or AAA batteries and you have some chewing gum on you, don’t panic. If you don’t have chewing gum but smoke cigarettes, the foil in the wrapper should work as a chewing gum wrapper replacement. Take a rectangle of the foil based chewing gum warpper. Pinch the middle. Place the ends foil side down on each end of the battery and the wrapper should catch on fire. PLEASE MIND YOUR FINGERS!

 

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Nothing

It may seem a bizarre thing to write, but when was the last time you disconnected from the world, just stopped, and were still. With the mobile switched off, Facebook closed down, no television in the background. Being still, or gently rocking in the breeze (in a hammock, rather than clutching your knees as a result of another bill coming through the door). There’s an old poem by William Henry Davies (I was forced to learn it at school):

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

In reality there’ll be some jobs to do over the course of the day. Breaking up some firewood, cooking, washing up… but take a little while to just stop and do nothing. Chill out. Disconnect the mp3 player, put down the book. If you fall asleep, does it matter?

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Zebra Bushcraft Billy Cans

zebra1If you’re looking for camping cookware which can handle considerable punishment, Zebra billy cans are ideal.

They come in four sizes. 10cm, 12cm, 14cm and 16cm. The 10cm and 12cm cans are ideal for one person, the 14cm for two, and the 16cm for three to four.

As you’ll see in the image, they also come with what looks like a dog bowl, which fits inside the main pot held on the rim. This allows steaming, smoking meat, cooking two layers of food or as a plate or shallow bowl.

Hang them from a tripod over a fire (the handle has a curve in the middle allowing this), pop them on a camp stove or lay them on their side and even use them as an oven to bake bread, these are versatile pots which will take years of abuse. Expect them to discolour slightly after use, but that just adds to their character.

The 14cm can is an ideal size to snugly hold a wood gas stove during transportation. Due to its height and unlike a normal pan with a standard handle, we find this more stable on a smaller stove allowing safer cooking.

What we like:

  • Solid construction;
  • The odd inner pan for steaming food;
  • Size.

What we don’t:

  • A design flaw is the plastic clips used to hold the handle upright – these melt if the pan is on a campfire. Take them off when cooking.

The issue with the clips is not enough to detract from just how good a piece of kit this is.

Some complain that the handle gets hot. Use a stick to lift the billy can when you’re ready to serve. Set it on the ground, and then use the stick, gloves or an oven glove to lift the lid. It’s not rocket science. Stainless steel gets hot! If not cooking with the lid on, you can also use an aluminium camping pan grip which are cheap to buy to handle the pot. This can also be used with the internal pan, and hey presto, you then have a mini frying pan.

In the following video a zebra billy can is used as an oven to roast a whole chicken on a small spirit burning stove. We know of people who use theirs to bake fresh bread in the morning. Please note the zebra can in the video has a minor modification, in that the plastic clips have been replaced with sprung wire.

 

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