Rob's Blog Archive

December 1, 2013

Weights and Measures










I am starting to work out which pieces of gear, including clothing, that I’m going to take on the trail.  I’ll be snow camping in deep subzero cold---whatever I bring had better work.  Beyond this, I have to be able to carry everything in a small pulk sled.  The weight of each item I take is as important as its functionality.  Getting stuff that works is pretty easy.  Getting the lightest stuff available that still works well, that’s hard. 

With this, I am looking at the weight of every piece of gear.  About half the time, I can find these online.  About half the time, I can’t.  I own a mechanical food scale which isn’t bad, but it’s still not as precise as I’d like.  So, I started looking for digital scales meant for the one ounce to 20 lb range (25 gm – 10 kg: I speak metric, too).  I was getting ready to buy one when my memory cell piped up---Mike from Rocky Mountain Adventure might have a scale I could use.  I decided to head over to his store and ask.  Once again, my memory cell came through.  Mike had a scale essentially identical to what I had been considering.  He said that he used it for bike gear---that season is over---- and that I could borrow it more or less indefinitely. 

And with this, I’ve been weighing everything.  My motivation started with the need for light weight, but weighing my gear awakened the experimental physicist in me, the guy who made his living by making accurate measurements.  It felt great to be writing down numbers once again.

Add to this that I get a certain perverse satisfaction when I can demonstrate that a listed spec or assumed weight is wrong.  A few years ago, I found that a ladle sold by an Alaskan mushing outfitter had a much smaller capacity than was listed on the website.  Not a tough experiment---fill the ladle and pour the water into a measuring cup.  A case where friends have assumed a weight incorrectly was for Northern Outfitter Mountain Boots.  My friends figured they didn’t weigh much, probably about three pounds for a pair, but nobody bothered to check and Northern Outfitters never mentioned a weight.  My pair of size 9’s weigh 5 lb 4 oz.  Of course, my Cabela’s Trans-Alaska III’s weigh six pounds, even. 

Beyond upstaging others’ “data”---a tried and true tradition among both experimental and theoretical physicists, b.t.w.----I’ve also had some fun surprises.  The skis I’m planning to use, a pair of 185 cm Madshus Eons, weigh exactly the same as my old pair of 205 cm Rossingol Chamois’ (the Eons are wider and should actually have better flotation than the Chamois’).  I was hoping they’d be close, but expected the Eons to weigh more.  The pair of Rossingol BCX-11 boots I fell in love with last year weigh only 12 oz. less than my Scarpa T3’s---a lot closer than I would have guessed.  Still, even without the weight difference, the Rossi’s are so much more comfortable than the T3’s that there is no real choice. 

When I was growing up, we had a darkroom in the basement.  I kept my chemistry set and all the other sundry items, other chemicals, a scale, test-tubes, a centerfuge, an alcohol burner, etc., there.  It was my lab.  At that time, for as much as any other reason, I liked going there to get away from people.  The irony in this is the biggest reason I chose to become an experimental physicist rather than a theoretician was that being in the lab meant I’d be with people rather than in my office with only a blackboard and a computer terminal as company.

Along with interacting with people while working on experiments, I learned to like the act of making an accurate measurement.  The table of gear items and their weight is growing daily.  Some items’ weights have surprised me more than others, but learning each has put a smile on my face.  And with that knowledge, hopefully, my trip from Willow to Nome will go a bit smoother.  In any case, I am living true to being “The Nerd of the North, a.k.a. The Bumbling Physicist.”

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