Solutions to problems that never existed




Human ingenuity is a wonderful thing.


In the world at large, we can be grateful for those inventions that have benefited mankind and transformed lives: home espresso machines, noise-cancelling headphones, the Porsche 911. Oh, and dialysis machines and stuff.

In the overlanding world we have much to be thankful for as well: the 12V fridge of course, but also LED lighting, MotionX-GPS Pro, diff locks, Star Walk . . .

Then there are . . . the others. Products that make one—or at least me—think, What were they thinking? See if you agree/disagree with any of these. No offense taken or given if you don’t. further suggestions welcome.


Here’s a brilliant concept: “Let’s make a fork with triangle-shaped tines incapable of penetrating anything firmer than a cube of rotten tofu, and a spoon with built-in drainage cuts in the end so any liquid picked up in it dribbles out on the user’s shirt. Then let’s combine them in one utensil!” And they're everywhere. Even Snow Peak, purveyor of many otherwise stellar products, wastes bits of the world's finite supply of titanium on their own version.

I know genuinely smart people (including blood relations) who claim to be fans of this idiotic device. I’m convinced they are simply mortally embarrassed at having been fooled into parting with good money for one, and are determined to bluster on and insist it’s a fabulous tool. It’s not. It’s dumb. Buy a fork, and buy a spoon (Snow Peak makes nice ones). Your shirt will stay cleaner, and you can eat steak instead of rotten tofu.

Incidentally, if a normal spork is too mundane for you, there’s the Tactical Spork from Ka-Bar:

Single-use soap

You know how difficult it is to get the last few uses out of a bar of soap when it’s been reduced to a sliver? How about paying for a pack of them? The entire concept of “single-use” soap is flawed to begin with. Single use for what? Washing your hands? What if your hands are really dirty? A shower? What if your “single-use” soap runs out when you’re only half clean? You get another, and have a half-use soap sliver left over? All this ran through my mind the first time I saw these things on a camping equipment site. Subsequent consideration hasn’t softened my stance.

One thing’s for sure: You’ll get taken to the cleaners while you’re getting cleaner. I found a pack of single-use soap “leaves” (actually shaped like leaves; cute) on Amazon. Twelve bucks for a pack of 20. That’s 60 cents every time you wash your hands.

Mini survival kits

Here’s the situation: You’re planning to head out into the wilderness with your 4x4/motorcycle/bicycle/backpack. And it crosses your mind that you might find yourself in a situation in which you lose everything—don’t ask how—and will have to stay alive, feed, water, and warm yourself, and find your way back to civilization by relying solely on the contents of the survival kit you grab before your 4x4/motorcycle/bicycle/backpack falls off the edge of a 5,000-foot cliff/is stolen by bandits/burns to ashes. So, of course that survival kit needs to fit inside a Peppermint Altoids tin, right? What’s in there? Let’s see—a razor blade for a knife, to skin the rabbit you catch with the included .00006” diameter “snare wire,” a condom to carry water (my favorite!), safety pins for. . . for . . . well, I’ve never been sure what for. A “fishing kit”: ten feet of ten-pound-test monofilament and three #12 hooks. A micro ferrocerium rod fire striker, of course, because no self-respecting mini survival kit would come with anything as plebeian and effective as windproof matches. And a button compass to precisely determine the difference between northish and sort of south.

At least the Altoids kits are cheap. I reviewed another mini survival kit here that was not.

The words “mini” and “survival kit” do not belong in the same sentence. If your life is going to depend on a single container of equipment, there is no reason it needs to fit in your back pocket. The best “pocket” survival kit for a large portion of the developed world is an iPhone. If you go more remote, carry a real kit with useful components.


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“Spec-Ops” survival knives

I’ve ranted in detail about these before, here. Suffice to say, burdening yourself with one of these cartoonish monsters unless you have a very, very high chance of needing to “egress from your downed helicopter’s canopy,” chop through a concrete block, or take down a sentry with an occiput strike, is just silly. A good bushcraft or standard hunting knife will perform far better for 99.999 percent of the things you really need a knife for—including survival.

Pop-up tents

You know the kind I’m talking about—a flat disk of fabric-covered springy wire; you fling it open and it either becomes a tent or a windshield shade (“Dammit, we left the tent at home again!”)

These things are a tent connoisseur’s ultimate nightmare: Sea kayaking the arctic coast, I stop to pitch camp to sit through a rapidly approaching Force Five storm, and when I pull my bombproof, four-season Hilleberg tent out of its stuffsack it has transmogrified into a Barney-purple and Minions yellow pop-up dome tent. I wake up in a cold sweat. “Tent dream again?” Roseann says sleepily.

I’ve actually used one—it came with a hired Land Cruiser in Egypt. It would collapse in a breeze that was insensible to a wet finger, and its admittedly instant pitch was more than offset by the fact that it required two people, five arms, and eight tries to accomplish the six-sequence coiling motion needed to return it to its case. Stupid.* Read more here.

*Note that I make an exception for pop-up shower/toilet enclosures, which do not need to keep you dry and safe in a storm or wind.