Monday, September 29, 2014

Insect Energy Bars: Cricket Power on the Go

Two companies now offer energy bars that feature a chirpy and unusual ingredient: crickets. Two small start-ups—Utah-based Chapul and Brooklyn-based Exo—both seek to capitalize on the health and environmental benefits of cricket power.

Specifically, crickets (and insects in general) are an exceptionally rich source of protein. Per the Exo web site, dried crickets are 69 percent protein, compared to 29 and 31 percent for chicken and beef respectively. Cricket flour is also rich in iron and vitamin B12 and low in cholesterols and fat.

Crickets also represent a much more efficient means to produce protein. Unlike livestock, crickets require minimal land, water, and other resources and produce far fewer global warming emissions than other sources of protein (especially beef, by far the worst climate-offender in agriculture).

And don't worry. Eating these new energy bars doesn't require you to floss antennae stuck between your teeth. The crickets are ground up to create a "slightly nutty tasting" flour, which is then added to the bars. (Crickets are not the primary ingredient, accounting for roughly six percent of an Exo bar—about 40 crickets per bar.)

A spoonful of crickets awaits. Photo from Exo Kickstarter page
Exo bars come in four flavors—apple cinnamon, blueberry vanilla, cacao nut, and PB&J—and run $36 for a 12-pack. Chapul offers more exotic combinations, including an Aztec bar made with dark chocolate, coffee, and cayenne; and a Thai bar with coconut, ginger, and lime ($32 for a 12-pack).

For reviews and more, check out some of the extensive media coverage, including articles in The New York Times, Forbes, and National Geographic.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The 10 Essentials Revisited: A new way of looking at a classic list

The 10 essentials are more than just a list. They are the basics of survival. Carry them and you will always be equipped for the unexpected. 

First developed in the 1930s by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based nonprofit, the original 10 Essentials consisted of a list of specific items—knife, map, compass, matches, etc. Today, several different lists and approaches are in use. 

In the Northeast, one of the most commonly recommended comes from hikeSafe, a safety and education program developed and endorsed by the White Mountain National Forest and New Hampshire Fish and Game. It includes: 1) map 2) compass 3) warm clothing 4) extra food and water 5) flashlight or headlamp 6) matches/firestarters 7) first-aid kit/repair kit 8) whistle 9) rain/wind jacket and pants and 10) pocket knife. 

An alternative approach—and one that I personally use— features a broader and less prescriptive set of categories, each one of which can be met in slightly different ways with different gear

This column originally appeared in the July/August edition of AMC Outdoors. You can read the full story here.

Photo by Ryan Smith.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Two Fun Facts about the Fall Equinox

The autumnal equinox occurs tonight, September 22, at precisely 10:29 PM Eastern time. It's a milestone celestial event, one that marks the official end of summer and start of fall. It's also got a few other fun and useful implications.

First some quick background. The equinox is defined as the precise moment when the sun is directly above the Equator. That is, if you were standing on the Equator on the equinox, the sun would be directly overhead (90 degrees up in the sky) when it reaches its highest point.

For the six months preceding the fall equinox, the sun has been shining directly overhead at locations in the northern hemisphere. Beginning at the spring equinox in March, the point where this occurs moves gradually northward from the Equator until the summer solstice, when the sun shines directly overhead along the Tropic of Cancer (latitude 23° 26' N). It then moves south again to recross the Equator at the fall equinox. This pattern is caused by the tilt of Earth's axis from the sun, which is (not coincidentally) tilted 23° 26' from vertical.

Fun Fact #1: On the fall (and spring) equinox, the sun rises due east and sets due west everywhere on Earth.
It's the only time of year this occurs, and a useful tidbit of information if you're navigating by the sun. At other times of year, the relative position of sunrise and sunset vary depending on your latitude.

Fun Fact #2: There is still more daylight than darkness on the equinox.
A common misconception is that the equinox marks the time when there are equal amounts of day (when the sun is up) and night (sun is down). This isn't actually true, as you can readily see by looking at sunrise and sunset times (on today's equinox, for example, sunrise in Boston is at 6:31 AM and sunset at 6:41 PM).

The reason? Sunrise is defined as when the top of the sun's disc first rises above the horizon, and sunset when the final sliver disappears below the horizon. That means that even though the center of the sun is up for exactly 12 hours on the solstice, the upper portion of the sun is actually up for longer, hence the time difference. (Day and night become equally roughly four days after equinox.)

Happy fall!

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Take Great Foliage Photos

How to Take Great Foliage Photos

Leaf-peep your brains out this fall. Then bring home some photographic memories that actually replicate the brain-popping colors you just witnessed. Here's how:

  • Motivate on wet mornings after a rain; bright foliage often awaits.
  • Use a polarizing filter, which enhances foliage color by eliminating reflected glare from leaf surfaces. 
  • Adjust the white balance setting on your camera appropriately to ensure your shot has sufficiently “warm” colors (reds, oranges).
  • Auto-white balance settings for “shade” and “direct sun” will add the greatest warming effects to your shots. 
  • Watch for overcast days and cloudy moments to provide even lighting, especially in forest settings.
  • Avoid taking pictures in glaring midday sun, which creates both harsh contrast and diminished colors. Seek morning and evening shots for the best lighting.

This column originally appeared in the print edition of AMCOutdoors along with the column "Tough Shots: Rugged cameras for the backcountry."

(Photograph by iStock.)

Monday, September 8, 2014

The 3 Strangest Things I've Seen on My Bike Commute

I ride the 10-mile length of the Minuteman Bikeway most days to work, racking up hundreds of trips and thousands of miles over the past three years. And, as I detailed in a recent article (The Rail-Trail Effect), I'm far from the only one on bike path each day.

Joggers, walkers, roller bladers, skateboarders, stroller pushers... I've spotted just about every non-motorized form of transportation you can think of. But there are three things I've seen that win the award for strangest sights.

Unicycle Training Wheels

Having made exactly one ill-fated attempted to ride a unicycle, I can attest to the difficulty of acquiring the skills of a successful one-wheel rider. It always made me wonder how anybody got started in this esoteric pursuit in the first place.

Now I have at least part of the answer. When I first spotted it on the bike path, I thought I was looking at a full-size adult riding a bizarre tricycle. Turns out the guy was riding a unicycle supported by a pair of small wheels that attached to the seat stem and extended out behind him.

Rand Ross Unicycle with Training Wheels

Stand-up Bicycle
The first time I spotted one of these I was utterly mystified. From a distance, it looked like an 8-foot-tall man was gliding smoothly and rapidly ahead of me on the bike path. As I got closer, the mystery deepened as I could see him pumping his legs, yet somehow his body wasn't bobbing up and down in response. It was my first encounter with an ElliptiGO.

These contraptions marry a gym elliptical machine with a bicycle to create a stand-up design that allows you to run in place as you power forward by two wheels. Looks like a great, low-impact workout (especially for jogging fanatics), but it doesn't come cheap. The basic model starts at $1,799 and they go up from there.

Helmet Mysteries
Lastly, and the one thing that most baffles me, is why some people ride with helmets on their heads yet don't buckle the strap under their chin. They might as well not be wearing a helmet at all, since an unsecured helmet will simply fly off in an accident and be essentially useless. I have seen this bizarre scenario dozens of times, and still can't figure it out.

Close runner-ups in the helmet category include people wearing their helmets backwards and cyclists riding along with their helmets dangling from their handlebars of backpacks as they go.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

How to Recycle a Used Stove Fuel Canister

When it comes to cooking in the backcountry, canister stoves—those that run on a compressed propane-butane blend—have been my go-to backpacking option for years. For me, their convenience and ease-of-use—attach stove, ignite, boil, simmer, done—more than outweighs the minor drawbacks of the canisters’ small additional weight and expense...

This story originally appeared in the August web edition of AMC Outdoors. You can read the complete story here.

Photo courtesy JetBoil.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Dehydrated Beer: Now Available

Two years ago I highlighted Pat's Backcountry Beverages, which at the time was developing the Holy Grail for backcountry beer enthusiasts. Now you can hold it in your hand.

Two versions of beer concentrate are now available:

1919 Pale Rail, an amber brew featuring "a delicate blend of aromatic malts and Cascade hops" that "delivers a complex, yet well-balanced, craft brew."

Black Hops, a darker, stouter option with "a bold blend of dark roasted malts" that "creates a smooth yet robust craft beer."

How does it work? You can get the full details here, but the short story is this.

Each 50ml brew concentrate pack ($9.95 for a 4-pack) will produce a pint of beer with an ABV between roughly 5 and 6 percent. In order to get it carbonated, however, you also need a carbonator bottle ($39.95) and a single-use activator packet (12 for $5.95). This video shows the whole process in action.

While I have not yet had the opportunity to sample the brew, some early reviews on GearJunkie and Gizmodo confirm what I would have guessed. Not the best beer you've ever had, but not bad either. And given that just about anything you eat or drink tastes better after a long, hard, and sweaty day on the trail, it's probably much tastier in the backcountry than it would be at home.

As to whether it's a good idea to just do a brew concentrate shooter straight out of the packet (ABV of roughly 50 percent), I would heed the feedback from the Gizmodo crew after they attempted it:
"After coating your throat in a not-at-all-pleasant burning sensation (lasting for about 8 minutes after the fact), the gel bombards your taste buds with a rotting symphony of flavors not meant for consumption. The Pail Rail—the tamer of the two at 49 percent ABV in the packet and 5.2 percent with water added—tasted vaguely of potent, regurgitated beer and/or straight garbage, while the Black Hops version—50 percent ABV or 6.1 percent with water added—was more reminiscent of an atrociously strong soy sauce mixed with melted tar. In short, beer concentrate shots are bad. Do not do them."
Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.