Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Product Review: Sportline Digital Distance Tracker Pedometer

March 22, 2014

A little about myself: over the past two years, I’ve lost about a hundred pounds, going from an obviously unfit 330+ pounder to an obviously fit 230+ pounder.  Obviously (seems like a good word), I’ve had to make a few changes to accomplish that.

I joined a gym and have worked out hard.  But even before I joined the gym, I was working toward losing weight – and it was that previous exercise routine that enabled me to have the courage to join a gym.  What was that “previous exercise”?  Walking.

I live in the California desert, and started heading out with my dog every day for a walk.  At first it was hard to psych myself up for it.  But it became easier and easier as I made it a habit.  And those walks are now the highlight of my day.

One of the things I discovered that really helped me transform my walking is a pedometer.  By keeping track of how far you’ve walked, you 1) know how many calories you’ve burned and 2) know how far you went yesterday so you can challenge yourself to go further today and further yet tomorrow.

You can read up on pedometers and see how weight loss specialist recommend them as an aide/tool (for another example, see here).

I wear mine everywhere I think I’m going to do a fair amount of walking.  I wear it shopping, for instance.  And there’s something about seeing those step numbers go up and then click over to the distance and see that I’ve gone x.xx miles that makes me want to go just a little bit further.  If I’ve gone nearly a mile, something in me makes me want to keep walking until I’ve gone that full mile.  If you think that’s crazy, all I can say is that it’s really nice to finally use my crazy to my benefit for a change.

But then there’s the question: which pedometer should I buy?

Well, I’ve bought four of them.  And the first three weren’t very good.  The last one has been so good I’m singing its praises.

I bought it at Wal-Mart for about $15.  It is a “Sportline Digital Distance Tracker” (UPC 095121107035).

The units I bought prior had the advantage of being cheaper.  But they had the disadvantages of being far more fragile, far less accurate, far less easy to attach to yourself, and frankly far less easy to use.

Let me take those in order:

The Sportline Digital Distance Tracker has been durable.  I’ve actually screwed up and let the thing go through the washing machine.  I was sure it was destroyed.  But believe it or not, I removed the battery, kept the compartment open, actually took the thing on a walk just to wave it around so it would have a chance to air out, and when I put the battery back in the thing came on and worked perfectly.  Since that mishap, I check all my pants and shorts pockets for pedometers before they go into the washing machine.  I’ve also dropped it a couple of times, which was more than enough to kill one of my cheaper units.  I mean, don’t do that stuff, but this unit has proven to be a pretty durable gadget for me.

The Sportline Digital Distance Tracker has been more accurate.  It has what they call “3 axis digital accuracy.”  And since I walk out in the desert, up and down hills and over uneven terrain, I discovered that cheaper units simply don’t record all of your steps if you don’t walk in such an even-stride manner that makes them happy.  As an example, I walked up a steep hill with another unit and was depressed to note that it hadn’t recorded a single step after all that work.  This unit has been by far the best at keeping count of my steps no matter where those steps have been.  Whatever unit you buy, I strongly suggest you get one that has that 3 axis deal.

The Sportline Digital Distance Tracker has been easier to attach to myself.  It’s part of the “3 axis” thing.  Most units will clip to your belt or tie to your shoelace.  And this one will do that, too.  But you can also just stick it in your pocket.  Which is what I do.  Warning: if you’re absent-minded, you run the risk of accidentally throwing it in the washing machine.  Please don’t do that – although my unit did come back to life.

The Sportline Digital Distance Tracker has been easy to use.  I remember one unit that was so awkward to use I practically needed to have the manual with me for the first month.  And by the time I figured out how it worked, it wasn’t working any more.  This unit is REAL easy to use.  Once you have programmed your stride length, you only need to click ONE button to go from your total step count to your distance walked to your calories burned to your time spent walking and back to your total step count.

Now, let me say something about the stride length.  My advice: don’t worry about it being hyper-accurate with your stride length.  The first time I started using pedometers, I was as hung-up with precisely measuring my stride length as a sprinter coach is about his stop watch.  But what I’ve learned is that the key to using these things is to keep pushing yourself to go a little further and then a little further.  And as long as you don’t keep monkeying around with the stride length, it will be the same from walk to walk to walk and you’ll know how far you’ve gone relative to your previous walk.  That bit of wisdom came to me as I pondered my walks: when I walk uphill, my stride length is one thing, when I walk downhill it is another, and when I walk on soft sand or over an uneven trail it is another thing yet.  But while my pace is uneven, I still have a much better idea of how far I’ve gone than I would have without the darn thing and I definitely have a good idea of how far I’ve gone today relative to yesterday as I hike different trails.

If you want to lose weight or just get your heart and lungs in better condition, I urge you to get off your butt and start walking.  And I advise you to start out with a small, manageable walk – don’t tell yourself you’re going to start walking ten miles a day because it will be too much for you and you won’t be able to keep it up – and then build your body and your schedule and your desire to keep going up so that you go further and further.

Oh, a dog helps, too.  It is nice to have a buddy to walk with.  And nobody loves going for a walk more than a dog!

Self Defense Combat Cane (AKA Predator Beater)

July 22, 2012

I’ve always loved wood.  And I think I love a good piece of wood the most when I can use it to smack some predator upside the skull.

I take a 5 mile walk every single day.  It’s probably better described as a “hike” because I take my walks out in the California desert along the southwestern base of the Little San Bernardino mountains.  I walk up hills and I walk down washes.  I stick to trails, but it’s fairly rough country.

I hike with my dog.  My last couple of dogs were Rottweilers, and they were the kings of the food chain pretty much wherever they went.  Now I’ve got a medium-sized Dachschund-Labrador mix – but apparently all hound inside – who chases everything that runs from her (rabbits, squirrels, lizards, butterflies) and runs from everything that chases her.  Thank God she runs like this:

She is high speed, low drag.

Last year we had very few problems.  This year she has repeatedly been on the menu for coyotes and we’ve also had to deal with several rattlesnakes.

The second picture documents the fact that while coyotes are relatively small, they’ve got fangs that are a good two times the size of an average dog’s.  Add to that the fact that they are basically small killers and they can be quite a threat to your dog.  In the Palm Springs area, two women in their 60s were recently attacked by coyotes.  They might be kind of cute; but they aren’t funny.

I was out on the golf course and looked up to see a bighorn sheep not far away from where I was playing.  And after thinking, “How beautiful!” I found myself thinking, “Bighorn sheep equals mountain lion range.”

“Mountain lion range” equals bad.

It was time to beef up on the defenses.

I’ve got bad knees.  To put it more clearly, if I were a horse they would shoot me.  So I’ve always liked to have hiking aids.  I started with hiking poles, but if you’ve got bad knees you tend to use them like canes, and using hiking poles as canes puts an unnatural strain on your wrists.

So I started using a pair of canes on my hikes.  They’ve been nice.  If you’re walking at night, for example, you’ve got four legs rather than two, making tripping over a rock a lot safer.  You’ve also got an advance warning system as well as more stability for the numerous burrows that are all too likely to cave in as you’re walking if you’re off the trail.  They also help me go up hills and come down them.  When you’ve got bad knees, you don’t like to descend sideways the way normal people do; you tend to just go down with your shoulders square to the slope to avoid the chance of a lateral shearing injury (bye-bye, ligament!).  The person with healthy knees going down sideways can lean his torso back to counterbalance himself; but if you’re going down a slope head first there’s just no way to do that.  Having two canes to stabilize you often means the difference between ending up on your ass and not ending up on your ass.  And I would imagine that even healthy-kneed people could benefit from using canes in this kind of terrain.

I’ll get to the canes I just purchased in a moment.  But first allow me to make a point about canes as a general self-defense weapon.

There are a few people who are allowed to carry a gun.  Obviously, as they say, a Smith & Wesson beats four Aces.  But let’s say you aren’t one of those people.  What kind of weapons can the average person carry around on them that won’t get them in trouble?

Canes are allowed EVERYWHERE.  And what you’ve got is a three foot-long club.  Which is why a martial art fighting style has been developed around them.

For the record, I will not be releasing a YouTube video of me trying to emulate Bruce Lee with my canes.  I’m sorry about that, as it would have been every bit as hilarious as it would have been pathetic.  But I have very little dignity left, and I wouldn’t want to squander the last shreds of what I have by showing you my “kane kung-fu” moves.

If somebody pulls a gun on you, you can’t outrun a bullet, but you might be able to dodge one.  Throw your “combat cane” down and run for your life.  If someone pulls a knife on you, well, if you’ve got a cane, they’ve got to get close enough to you to stab you without getting their noggin bashed.  Which is to say that a cane can beat four Aces, too, if you really want it to.

That said, I set about looking for a pair of hard-core canes for my usually quite heavenly hikes out in the desert.

The two that I had were steel tubes that were essentially in three pieces – two for the shaft and one more for the handle.  I was afraid that if I really had to start swinging something would break that I didn’t want to get broke right when I needed it.  What I wanted was something that was one solid piece, and I wanted it good and strong and solid and hard.

This is what I found:

They’re called “Stockmens canes,” and I guess they’re used primarily for dealing with cattle.  As in I said MOVE, you big stupid beast.  Actually, I’m not sure how the heck they’re used, but I got them from an outfit that sells equipment to farmers and ranchers.

The ones I’m showing are called the “Elephant 1-1/8″ Dia. Octagon Cane,” product number C07434N available here at  The “octagon” refers to the eight-sided shape of the cane, versus a completely rounded shaft.  If anything, the octagon shape might be more comfortable on the hand and provide a surer grip.

For the record, 1-1/8″ diameter is THICK.  If you’re tall like me, and don’t have to cut the 36″ predator whumper down to size, the tip is tapered for a 1″ cane or crutch tip (otherwise you’d need a 1-1/8″ tip).  Here is one of my new canes surrounded by a pair of typical walking canes so you can see the difference:

The canes are made out of AA-grade white oak or hickory, which are both extremely hard, dense, heavy and durable hardwoods.  Very good wood for smoting pinheads.

I found a wood hardness chart available as a PDF file.  Hickory (harder at 1820 on the scale) and white oak (1320) are both on the highest range of hardness in the commonly available woods.  It’s not easy to find a pair of 1-1/8″ thick curupy or Brazilian tiger mahogany or ironwood walking canes (and I’m guessing they would have been pretty spendy for canes I was going to haul out into the desert every day); so what I’ve got will have to do.

The shipping weight is listed as 1.5lbs.  But I weighed them in at 1.25 lbs.  Which is a fair amount heavier than the half pound of an ordinary walking cane that takes a 3/4″ cane tip.  To put the weight of these canes into a different perspective, 1.25 lbs is 20 ounces; an average major league baseball bat weighs between 31 and 33 ounces and average.  And few major league bats exceed 36″ in length.  So these solid oak or hickory canes are basically two-thirds of a baseball bat combined with a convenient carrying handle.

That should give you an idea of what one of these canes could do to the head of whatever predator – human animal or just garden variety animal – wants to fool with you.

Good luck beating the price: $$12.35 per cane plus shipping (which was just over $11 for the two I purchased).  I bought the tips on eBay for the deal of 8 of them for $8.99 out the door.  And they look quite a bit more durable than the 3/4″ tips that I spend more money on at Wal-Mart.

The two canes I purchased were unfinished, but sanded and smooth.  I purchased two products for less than $13 with my 10% veterans discount at Home Depot:

To varnish the canes (Tung oil beats Linseed oil because Tung oil has UV protectant and provides a barrier against insects and mildew), I lightly scuffed them with the fine steel wool and then rubbed a coat of Tung oil on with a lint-free cloth and then hung them to dry.  Twelve hours later I did it again.  And then twelve hours after that I added a third coat, each time lightly scuffing with the steel wool to give the new coat of varnish a better surface to adhere to.  And the next day after that I was a walking fool.

Oh, I would recommend you use a pair of disposable rubber gloves each time you apply the varnish (I also wore them during sanding to avoid getting fingerprint oils on the wood).  Unless you like having sticky fingers for two days.

And walking in style, I might add.  With the Tung oil varnish, the wood is gorgeous.  For fifty bucks I have a lovely set of walking weaponry.

I’m not lamenting, “Oh, for a head to pound!”, but if anything comes around me that wants its head pounded, I will provide the service free of charge.  Especially if its trying to eat my dog.

P.S. I also purchased an air horn from Wal-Mart (a 1.5 oz container made by Attwood) for $8.16.  It fits easily into a pocket.  I also now wear my old teacher’s playground whistle around my neck.