Vade Mecum: A Toolkit That Need Never Leave Your Side
(Plus a Few Rainy‑Day Thoughts on Order and Method)
By Tamia Nelson
November 25, 2014
It rained for much of October. Rained without let‑up. And late in the month, I found myself standing on the sandy shoreline of a nearby beaver pond as the rain poured down. I'd got there on shanks' pony. The little pond that now lay before me is landlocked, nestled in a fold in the hills. Even in spate, the feeder creek is too small for any craft larger than a souvenir birchbark canoe. Stuart Little could paddle it easily. In fact, it would make an exciting run for any mouse who could lay his paws on a toy canoe and a popsicle‑stick paddle. Unfortunately, I'm no mouse. Which is why my little Old Town Pack canoe languished in its berth, several miles from where I stood.
You get the picture, I'm sure. It certainly wasn't a picture‑postcard sort of day. But there I was, watching the unceasing rain dimple the iron‑gray surface of the beaver pond. There was method in my madness, however. A carefully constructed teepee of tinder, kindling, and small stuff lay at my feet, and though the wood — all the wood — was sodden, I was reasonably confident that I could get a fire going. After all, I'd placed a wad of birchbark curls and weed fluff at the heart of the teepee.
This wasn't an idle exercise. I had three ends in mind when I closed the door behind me and headed for the hills: (1) Rain or no rain, I needed a respite from my desk, (2) I wanted to put my "Light My Fire" FireSteel to the test, and (3) I was looking forward to an al fresco lunch made from a packet of stuffing mix. Not only would this be an interesting change from my usual midday fare, but it would give me a chance to take some photos I needed to illustrate an upcoming article.
And things had gone well at first. Though it had rained steadily during the walk in, and though my route required that I bushwhack cross‑country for much of the distance, I'd made it to the pond without difficulty. I was happy with my teepee fire lay, too. But when I groped in the recesses of my pack for the FireSteel, I came up empty‑handed. To make matters worse, I discovered that I'd also left both my camera and the packet of stuffing mix on the kitchen table back home. (I'd gotten a late start, and my packing had been a rather hasty, hit‑or‑miss affair. More miss than hit, as it turned out.) My spirits, already dampened by the steady rain, now plummeted even lower, and they didn't improve on the homeward trudge.
But at least the walk gave me time to reflect on the importance of organization, or "order and method," to borrow a favorite phrase of Agatha Christie's meticulous Belgian sleuth. And that got me thinking about an e‑mail I'd recently received from Taj, an In the Same Boat reader and frequent correspondent. Taj's approach to gearing up for backcountry travel is a textbook example of order and method. The subject of our most recent correspondence hadn't been fire‑making or photography, however: It had been toolkits. I'd written a column earlier in the year about multitools for paddlers, and — as is all too often the case — the article revealed the limits of my knowledge and experience.
Enter Taj, who has devoted as much time and energy to assembling his portable toolkit as I have to collecting my field sketching and photography outfits. Perhaps, I thought, it would be instructive to reread Taj's letter. If nothing else, it might encourage me to bring a bit more order and method to bear in my preparations for spur‑of‑the‑moment outings. And on the assumption that others might benefit, too, I asked Taj if he'd mind my reprinting his e‑mail and the accompanying photos.
He said he didn't. (He's a generous soul, obviously.) So here goes:
Taj's Take‑It‑Anywhere Toolkit, …
As he described it to me:I make a living with tools and have done so for four decades. Like yourself I have tried an assortment of what we now call multitools. This started with my Cub Scout knife sometime in the early 1960s. I thought you might find it interesting where that twisted trail has led. Since earning the right to carry my Cub Scout knife, which I still possess and treasure, I have seldom been without a capable bladed tool. I've carried everything from small bone-handled pen knives, to Swiss Army knives, to large hunting knives. They all met a purpose. I have spoiled myself with a very nice Benchmade folding knife as a versatile everyday carry blade. This because I have come to appreciate well-made tools and the ability of CPM-M4 steel to hold an edge.
I work as an industrial electrical/mechanical maintenance and repair man. Tools are important in my trade, and the temptation is to carry everything I can fit into a back-killing tool pouch. I have pared most needs into a smaller and greatly serviceable kit with the purchase of a very special Leatherman tool and a few small additions. A key to this Leatherman tool is that it has an integral bit holder and a host of additional bit types. These include standard screwdriver tips; hex head, torx head, and square head bits; and a miniature flat/Phillips combination that fits things like screws in glasses frames. I also have a bit driver extender that provides additional reach and ¼-inch driver capability. Added to this, I carry a 5⁄16-inch socket that opens a variety of machine cabinets. A four-inch Crescent wrench complements the pliers in the Leatherman when fingers can't hold a nut from spinning. I can accomplish an incredible number of small tasks with this kit and not need to descend a ladder or run for my tool box.
I am somewhat addicted to carrying this kit always. It goes paddling and camping as well as to town. Thus I included a Swedish fire steel as well. I can start a fire with old fashioned flint and steel if necessary. The Swedish fire steel is like flint/steel on steroids. I am attaching pictures, including an exploded view, of this compact kit for the usefulness of sharing my experience. I hope you have found this interesting.
Did I find Taj's e‑mail interesting? You bet I did! And I've got my eye on a multitool like the one he describes. But now let's look at the photos that accompanied Taj's letter. Taken together, his words and images give us …
A Picture of Efficiency
First, we have the enclosing pouch:
And this is what it holds:
Everything Taj mentions in his letter is here, along with a few extras: a flashlight, a couple of pens, a little Swiss Army knife, and a tube of ChapStick. ChapStick? What's ChapStick doing in a toolkit? Well, Taj has the answer to that, too:I forgot to say something about that multi-talented tube of ChapStick! As a horn player I'm never without my lip balm. But wait, it is good for more! I've used it to give relief to split fingers on dry winter days. You can "wax" a thread before threading it into a needle. It makes a fine lube for driving a screw into a new hole or smoothing a stubborn zipper. Or greasing the threads on an aluminum flashlight body to make changing batteries easier. And it burns! Rub some into a paper napkin and roll it up for a great fire starter. Next, I'm going to try using it as patch lube for my muzzleloading rifle. I don't doubt it will work fine.
OK. I admit I'm flabbergasted. I've carried a tube of lip balm (not ChapStick, though — Labiosan) in pack and pocket for donkey's years. But I had no idea the stuff could be put to so many uses. Live and learn. Anyway, now that I've dried off from my trudge through the rainy Adirondack foothills, I'm going to buckle down and bring a bit more "order and method" to bear in my preparations for future trips. And if ever I need inspiration, I'll just reread Taj's letter.
The connection between, on the one hand, a rainy October morning spent standing on the margin of a beaver pond, and, on the other, the art of assembling a portable toolkit, isn't immediately obvious, I admit. But there is a common link, and that link is the backcountry wanderer's need for order and method. Taj helped me see this. And now he's helped you. His go‑everywhere, do‑everything toolkit is pretty neat, too.
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In case you're wondering: In the Same Boat neither solicits nor accepts payment for product endorsements, nor do we accept product samples from manufacturers or their representatives. (Not even a tube of lip balm!) We write about what we purchase through normal retail channels, and nothing else, though on rare occasions we'll publish a product analysis of something we don't own and have never used, based solely on the manufacturer's claims, published specifications, or the experience of friends. Whenever we do this, however, we'll always tell you.
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