Thursday, November 05, 2009

Website Shenanigans

I got myself banned from a website this afternoon. Suvivalist Boards, if you're interested. It started when I stumbled into a conversation about soda can stoves on some message boards on a website for "survivalists." The general consensus was that they burned poorly at high altitudes and cold temperatures and were easily crushed if you leaned your back against a wall or post. They were toys, not "real" equipment that a survivalist would want to carry.

I'll be the first to admit that the soda can stove isn't ideal for all situations. If you have to cook for multiple people, a soda can stove would take way too long and burn far too inefficiently. I'd suggest something different. If you spend your time climbing all of the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado in the winter time, you probably shouldn't be using a soda can stove. If you want to bake cookies and pizza, a soda can stove is less than ideal. It's possible--I've done it!--but it's not easy and far from ideal. Other stoves could do a much better job of it.

But for most people, a soda can stove will work just fine. Most people aren't wandering around at 11,000-foot elevations. East of the Rockies, there aren't even any places that go that high. The argument that soda can stoves don't burn well below 20 degress--that might be true, but I've never tried to use it at temperatures that cold before either. I tend to do most of my backpacking in the summertime--except in places like Florida or Arizona where I'll do my hiking in the wintertime. But temperatures don't get below 20 degrees. I have used it once in the snow and it worked just fine, so cold temperatures do work. Below 20? Maybe, but how many people wander around in the woods in sub-freezing temperatures? Not many.

So for most people, a soda can stove will work just fine, and I posted so, clicking off all of the concerns people had about the stove.

One person replied--I got the hunch he ran the website--saying that while he respected the soda can stove, he didn't feel it was appropriate for a "survival kit." Yadda, yadda, yadda. Then went on belittling it, comparing it to other "quality" stoves made of titanium and that folks on eBay sold soda can stoves that their children made. To which I thought, "Yeah, so? If it works, who cares?"

He also pointed out other "quality" items that would go into a survival kit, such as Cold Steel Knives, which I had never heard of before so I googled it out of curiosity and found an interesting video of one where they hung 600 pounds of weight on it. "Look! It can hold 600 pounds! Now that's quality."

It was an impressive demonstration, but I was left scratching my head and wondering, why the heck would I ever want to hang 600 pounds of weight from a knife? If there's a cheaper version that could only hold 100 pounds, I have little doubt it would suit my cutting needs just fine.

But I thought his arguments against the soda can stove were poor. It wasn't good enough for a "survival kit"? Why the heck would you even need to include a stove in a "survival kit" in the first place? I do not consider a stove to be a survival item. You never hear about the guy to got lost in the woods for a week, finally makes it out, and says, "Good thing I had my stove--it saved my life!" I'm sure if I had to cut off my arm, a Cold Steel Knife would be a nice little gadget to have on me. But a stove? Really? How is a stove going to save my life? Sure, dehydrated ground beef isn't fun to eat cold, but if my life depended on it, I could do it. And if I'm really stuck in the woods that long, I'll run out of fuel eventually anyhow. I can just build a fire and cook my meal on that. A stove is not a survival item.

So I posted a second time, replying with such thoughts, and pointing out that I've used them while backpacking over thousands of miles of terrain. The soda can stove has never failed me. It's solid, it's reliable, and perfect for 3-season camping.

I went back to check the thread later this evening, and got a message saying that my IP address was blocked due to 'spam.' Really? Spam? I wasn't even selling anything. I didn't even start the thread--I was just trying to correct misunderstandings folks might have about the soda can stove. I thought the guy belittling the soda can stove was just ignorant or maybe stupid, but I was wrong. He wasn't belittling the soda can stove because he was ignorant or stupid--he was doing it because he sold stoves and he couldn't make money on people who made their own stoves.

The irony is, had he not spent so much effort belittling soda can stoves, I wouldn't have spent so much effort trying to defend them. He'd have been better off just keeping his mouth shut and I would have never bothered replying at all.

But it got me thinking--most outdoor gear, in my opinion, is a scam. It doesn't matter if you look on a website such as this where they push expensive replacements where a cheap alternative would work just fine. It happens in places like REI too. They slap important sounding terms like "load-balancing systems" and "silicone impregnated nylon" on everything. Nowhere does it say, "We charge $10 extra for every big word we can use."

They'll tell you about all the rain gear you need. I've hiked through a lot of rain and mud, and "rain gear" does not keep anyone dry. You will either be drenched in sweat or in rain, or some combination of the two depending on the permeability of the material. Just make sure the clothes can dry quick when it does stop raining. Any cheap non-cotton clothes will do the trick. And a cheap umbrella is worth its weight in gold.

Everyone has been brainwashed into thinking you have to have "boots" to do a hike. I'm living proof that that's not the case. I have used boots before, and I find them less comfortable, they take longer to dry, and much longer to break in. Oh, and a lot more expensive. That's the real reason they push boots--they make more money selling expensive boots than cheap shoes.

If you believe everything you hear, you'd think giardia plagues just about every natural water source available, and filters will turn all of it into pure, clean drinking water. Fact is, most of those remote springs are perfectly safe to drink out of. I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail without treating my water and never got sick. I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but the perceived danger is much greater than what actually exists. And filters are not as reliable as they want you to think. A brand new filter is nearly 100% effective, but as it ages, it's effectiveness goes down. Typically, when it's reached the end of it's expected lifespan, the filter is less than 80% effective. If you do drink out of a water source that's infected with giardia, more than 20% of those organisims are going to get through the filter. The best way to avoid getting giarda is to drink out of water sources that are least likely to be infected in the first place.

They push expensive backpacks that cost several hundred dollars and weigh several pounds--the absolutely worst kind you can get for a simple backpacking trip. Even the so-called GoLite packs are stuffed full of necessary straps and buckles adding unnecessary weight.

You'll never see an article in Backpacker magazine about how to make your own soda can stove. Know why? Because their advertisers sell stoves. I don't blame them--they need advertisers to survive. It's in their best interest to make you want to buy a lot of crap you don't need. I guess I can't get upset being banned for promoting soda can stoves, but I would have appreciated a heads up that promoting goods that the website doesn't sell is frowned upon. And while they may not want to promote outside views, I think it's only fair they don't go out of their way to belittle them either. If you belittle someone else's views, you have to expect them to want to defend it.

I can't express my views on that website anymore, but that doesn't mean I can't express my views. If you're looking for something online, beware of the advice if it comes from the person who is selling it. They may not have your best interests at heart--they may just want you to open your wallet. Open wide!


Bobguyman said...

Sorry to hear you were banned Ryan =(

I definitely see a lot of your points! =)


Hendel D'bu said...

Their loss, Ryan.

Sometimes people just don't want to hear good old common sense, I've found - especially if they are a politician or selling something.


Amanda from Seattle said...

i find it interesting that the advertisements when i view this page are for camping stoves and water filters :-)

Pungent Bob said...

Actually a stove is a good addition to a survival kit in the winter if your only sources of water are likely frozen. A stove is good insurance against hypothermia too.

For filters, yes it is best to pick the cleanest sources but your argument about filters losing effectiveness isn't valid. A new filter is better, but since it takes a particular concentration of organisms before you get sick, any filtering is better than none (with contaminated water).

wassamatta_u said...

I suspect it had nothing to do with Stoves: the real reason you were banned was for using words like "shenanigans".

Scarab said...

I am leaning toward adding to my survival kit a tear drop trailer.

Scarab said...
This comment has been removed by the author.