Throwing Shade

When the UPS or FedEx truck delivers a box and my wife gets to it before me, she’s throwing shade. You know the drill. Thankfully, something showed up here that the boss really likes. Something that throws real shade. The kind of deep, dark shade that provides relief on a hot day at the beach. Or the river. Or out on the trail. We’re talking about the all new Adapter Shade Panel and Sweet Spot Vehicle Kit from Force Protector Gear.

Shade at the beach!
Shade in the woods!

Founded in 2005 and based in California, Force Protector Gear is the designer and manufacturer of the US Marine Corps replacement Sea Bag, “The Deployer“, as well as their ThermaShield® line of products. Their gear is currently in use in extreme environments worldwide by USSOCOM and other demanding, high profile expeditionary customers.

What is the Adapter Shade Panel? The ASP is a thermal reflective specialty product in the ThermaShield family specifically designed for the Overland community. This magical blanket material can make shade that is 20-40° less than sitting in the full sun and ensures 100% UV protection. The real magic is in the special fabrics used in it’s manufacture (1000D Cordura, FPG Desert Cloth®, and FPG Reflectec®) which enable TRUE shade unlike other tarps or awnings currently marketed for overland use. Beyond providing shade, it can easily block wind and rain, and it can reflect heat away from you or towards you depending on what the need is.

As the basic building block for making modular, scalable shelter, the ASP’s tapered trapezoid shape attaches quickly to narrower 4WD vehicles, vans, or even side-by-side roll cages. As a stand alone system, it provides quick shade and protection under its 6’ x 10’ footprint and can be erected in about 5 minutes making it perfect for quick lunch stops on the trail.

Fast, five minute setup for lunch stops

The Sweet Spot Vehicle Kit includes an ASP, a ThermaShield blanket, 4 super sturdy poles and all the rigging, and provides nearly 200 sq ft of real shade that can be tailored to any environment. By adding a single Field Blanket to the sides or end of the ASP you can quickly augment your wind/shade/rain protection, and ensure continuous shade as the sun dips low on the horizon.

With standard ThermaShield snap spacing, you can attach additional blankets in minutes adding 60 sq ft of protection each time. In a few short minutes you can build a full Bedouin-style camp with shade and wind breaks. The utility of the Sweet Spot Kit as a basis for shelter is only limited by your imagination and how many blankets you add to it.

One thing that I really like is the fact that the Sweet Spot Kit is not a “one trick pony” like larger and heavier hard mounted awning systems.

Like all ThermaShield products, this kit provides many functions and can provide shelter both on or off your vehicle, help keep track of small parts and protect yourself when lying under your rig in the hot sand, or even just snuggling up at the campfire or keeping warm at a chilly sporting event. Their Desert Cloth is surprisingly soft and lends itself well to picnic blanket or bedtime use as a “woobie”.

It also has medical applications and can help reduce heat injuries, and is helpful for cold injuries or treating for shock by keeping an injured person warm. In a pinch, the Adapter Shade Panel or ThermaShield can even be used as an expedient litter when things go bad in the wilderness.

Testing

Average consumer grade companies make stuff and hope that it works. Since hope is not a plan, and their primary customers are anything but average, FPG took their ThermaShield to the lab at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts. They tested these blankets in temperatures ranging from -25 to 135 degrees Farenheit. Then they put them in the hands of SOCOM personnel where they were proven in real world conditions. The current Sweet Spot Vehicle Kit is an evolution of this rigorous testing and continued development of the basic ThermaShield concept.

Rated for every clime and place

Attachment:

The ASP can attach to anything from racks to shells. It can even attach to rear hatches on SUV’s using the supplied “Belly Band” strap. Padded corners on the ASP allow snapping in additional field blankets while protecting your vehicle’s expensive paint. Hypalon backed “Gromolon” anchor points and steel rings stay centered on the pole tips and provide a 270° stable arc to pull from. Utilizing the ¾” Stake Straps enable you to easily clip in to the MILSPEC anchor buckles and cinch down for a rock-solid standard configuration. Available SmartClip Adapters allow you to lock in paracord or small bungee cords for those non-standard setups fixing to objects, trees or vehicles.

Adapter Shade Panel mounting on Leitner Designs Rack
Hypalon backed anchor rings stay centered on the pole tips and provide a 270° stable arc

SmartClips and Stake Straps

The ASP has Surface Mount Buckles on all four corners that accept ¾” side release male buckles. In most scenarios, simply clipping in the Stake Strap and running the eye to a tent stake gets it done. It’s difficult to express in words what a game changer the Stake Straps are – keeping tension and making one-handed adjustments is stupid simple with these.

The SmartClip Adapter puts their patented aluminum SmartClip® into play giving you a huge amount of attachment options with a no-knot anchoring system for use with 550 Paracord or small bungee cords. You can easily attach to objects further away than the Stake Straps will reach (how much 550 cord did you bring?), or you can even use pliable bungee cords that can flex with high wind gusts in the desert. These incredibly tough accessories provide nearly limitless securing options in a tiny package.

SmartClips or Stake Straps? You choose based on your environment.
Made in USA!
Sweet Spot Kit, Extra ThermaShield, and rigging.

Weights and Dimensions

Adapter Shade Panel Dimensions: Trapezoid shape; 112” L x 52” W (vehicle end) and 72” W (pole end).

Adapter Shade Panel Weight: 2.2 lbs.

ThermaShield Blanket Dimensions: 112″ L x 72″ W

ThermaShield Blanket Weight: 2.2 lbs.

Our Thoughts?

We really like the fact that we can carry a MASSIVE amount of shade in a very small and very light package. The fact that it can be tailored to the conditions so easily is a huge plus for me. Windy? Sun blazing hot and low on the horizon? Need privacy? It’s as easy as snapping another blanket onto the ASP and staking it down.

I’m convinced that there is no better shade option available given the light weight, simple form factor and limitless applications this kit provides. Add in the SOCOM proven, made in USA quality and the science inherent in the 1000D Cordura, FPG Desert Cloth®, and FPG Reflectec®fabrics and you have a true “best of breed” product that has applications across the full spectrum of adventure travel from hardcore 4×4, overland, motorcycles, UTV’s, hiking, kayaking, and more.

CONCLUSION: The argument for the Adapter Shade Panel and/or the Sweet Spot Kit versus other options is unbreakable. There is no other shade system on the American market today that provides more scalability, more UV protection, or more heat reflective properties than this kit. If you only have one way of making shade, or if your life depends on being able to make shade or shelter anywhere on a moment’s notice, this is the clear choice.

Sweet Spot Vehicle Kit

FULL DISCLOSURE: The Force Protector Gear products featured here were provided at no cost to the author or American Adventurist for the purpose of this independent gear review.

Eat Well In The Wild!

Meal planning is one of the most important considerations for any trip.  We all know that being hangry can derail a trip, so it’s worthwhile to take some time to explore alternatives for fast and easy food while out there on the go. And since we know that hunger sometimes strikes when we’re minimally prepared, it’s good to be knowledgeable on the high quality, shelf stable choices available to keep on hand for potential emergencies like being stranded or socked in by fast moving weather systems. Having at least three days of extra food at all times is a hard requirement for anyone traveling the back country by boots, paddles, peddles or 4WD.

That said, over the years we’ve expended a lot of time and resources on camp cooking during our longer trips.  You can bring the entire Snow Peak or Camp Chef catalog to camp, and it’s easy to invest considerable time and money on elaborate meal planning and preparation. Everybody wants to be your friend in camp when you fire it up Overland Gourmet style and start delivering the goods.

But what if you don’t enjoy hauling 150 lbs of glamping paraphernalia around in your vehicle so you can feed those pesky camp remoras again? What if you’re the camp remora this time and find yourself out of luck?

Or, what if it’s just YOU on a solo adventure?

If you’re less focused on spending time in camp fiddling with kitchen gear and cleaning, and more focused on the actual experience gained while out and about, this article is for you. 

Food can be a polarizing topic. With innumerable dietary needs, opinions and preferences to consider, we’ll stick to just the basic facts here as it pertains to “hiker food”. We’ll also provide some impressions on brands and flavors etc in follow on segments here.

One argument that cannot be broken is the fact that there is no easier option. The only thing required for most of these meals is water, a way to boil it, and a long spoon.

Something thing that really interests me is how far this technology has progressed.  Today’s lightweight “hiker food” tastes SO much better than it did even 10 years ago.  The variety of brands and menu options has really grown as well, with everything from Kosher to Vegan to Gluten Free meals being readily available online from vendors like REI or Basecamp Food in the UK. Basecamp is my go-to source for different menus from “over the pond”. Most of the international meals you see here were sourced online from them.

Of interest here, the market has exploded with many new offerings from the UK, Scandinavia, and here in the USA which in turn drives innovation and creates competition for legacy brands like Mountain House, the industry standard we’re all familiar with. Everyone wins when brands compete in a free market!

SHELF LIFE.  In general, shelf life ranges from good (a few years) to amazing (decades!) on freeze dried meals from different makers.  With the European varieties, shelf life tends to be decent but considerably less than the comparable American freeze dried meals.  This might be due to the composition of the meals and choice of ingredients.  For example, the standard Mountain House stuff is 100% freeze dried, while some of the European meals appear to use a variety of ingredients in addition to just freeze dried staples.

EXPIRATION DATE? 2050!
REAL Turmat – Norway

COST.  Freeze dried meals can cost on average of anywhere from $7 to $12 per meal, so they’re not exactly inexpensive. You can buy a dehydrator and a vacuum sealer and DIY some stuff at home if you want, or just buy some pre-dried bulk ingredients from a grocery store. It’s easy to blend proteins, starches, and spices together to create your own tasty mash ups. 

But, if your time is more valuable than your money, you’ll gladly pay for the diverse flavors and convenience seen here.

Peak Refuel – USA

CONVENIENT CALORIES.  Backpacker meals tend to be calorically dense, lightweight, and generally VERY tasty.  Best of all, and an important feature when you’re physically exhausted after a long journey, they’re SO EASY to cook. Just add boiling water, wait a few minutes (patience is key), and then eat it straight out of the bag. And since no cleanup is required, you can go straight from eating out of a bag, to crawling into your sleeping bag. You can even cook and consume these meals from within a sleeping bag in inclement weather. Going to be bed with a hot meal in your belly will help you stay warmer, and that alone can be priceless.

Military Field Rations have improved, but are still HEAVY to carry, especially MRE’s!

NUTRITIOUS ENERGY.  The weight to energy ratio is fairly good as freeze-drying a meal removes 80% of it’s water weight, with many meals ranging between 500-900 calories and weighing in at around 5-7 ounces. The process of freeze drying can also retain up to 90% of the nutrients which is good, but some companies have a fair amount of sodium and “other stuff” in them which may or may not concern you.

Some brands feature more natural ingredients than others, and competition is increasing in the “healthy” segment with brands like Tent Meals in the UK and Good To-Go in the US filling this important niche with clean ingredients that you can actually pronounce.

SPEAKING OF HEALTHY OPTIONS…  Patagonia Provisions offers a different take on the genre by partnering with like-minded farmers, fishermen and researchers as partners in the creation of their foods.  Patagonia specifies and supports “regenerative practices that restore, rather than deplete, the planet”.  So if you’re looking for a tasty, sustainable, environmentally aware option Patagonia just might have what you need.  

Patagonia Provisions

Firepot meals are handmade in Dorset, England. Their goal is meals that are nutritious, delicious and simple. And if you’re watching your salt intake, they only add salt as you would at home – very sparingly. You’ll recognize all their ingredients and you won’t find any artificial additives, flavorings or preservatives.

SPOILER ALERT: Their Orzo Pasta Bolognese is top shelf!

FIREPOT is made without palm oil or additives and features compostable pouches

DON’T FORGET SPICES! Eating too much of the same things over the course of a week-long trip can wear on you.  Bringing along some small packets of salt, pepper, or condiment packets like hot sauce, wasabi, or BBQ sauce can be a game changer and a BIG boost to morale at the end of a hard day. 

Extreme Adventure Food -UK

CONSIDER YOUR BEVERAGE OPTIONS! You should try to remember to include some beverage powders etc when you do your meal planning.  These little Arizona Tea “Arnold Palmer” Half and Half drink mixes are a great pick me up and long time favorite of mine, weighing in at a hiker friendly 3.3 grams each with only 10 calories and the ability to instantly transform a half liter of meh tasting water into a liquid dessert. There’s even some seriously good COFFEE options on the market today aimed squarely at the fast and light crowd. We’ll cover more on these developments in a future article.

VARIETY IS KEY.  You’ll want different meals when you’re out there, so make sure you include breakfast entrees in addition to the usually acceptable lunch and dinner menu items.  Augmenting your meals with some fresh fruit is a nice treat that adds flavor and nutritional value to your diet as well. 

Trailtopia – USA

One of the other really nice things about these dehydrated meals for motorcycle, 4WD or “Overland” style trips is that they require no refrigeration, and you can augment them with virtually unlimited other standard “road trip” snacks like beef jerky, drinks and trail mixes if you’re not lugging it all on your back.  But if you are hiking it all in like some of us love to do, remember “ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain”… 

… your comfort based decisions come with a cost so choose those meals and extra treats wisely!

Every meal CAN be different!
Expedition Foods – UK
Backpacker’s Pantry (USA) Risotto with Chicken is one of the best tasting meals we’ve ever had!

Future articles here in American Adventures magazine will talk about the flavor, texture, and overall drool factor (or the lack thereof) involved with some of these meals, and our top picks for which meals warrant an “always on hand” status in our load planning.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  All endorsements and opinions in this article are unsolicited. Items featured in this article were privately purchased by the author for the sole purpose of providing honest, independent reviews to help our members eat well in the wild!

#IndependentMedia

Alpine Aire – USA