A list of things which are actually quite good
1. Smooth cast iron pans
Regular cast iron does not work. However, polished to a mirror finish before use, cast iron is magic: this is how cast iron was always made before manufacturers cheaped out. Will last decades, forty quid, out-performs any non stick pan I have ever experienced, and basically impossible to screw up with. Will change how your kitchen works.
2. Military type ponchos
A few hundred grams, 20 quid, sit on it, wear it, wrap it around you, take your pick. Just leave it in your bag. Downpour-proof. Lux option, for warmth add a Swagman poncho which is made of fancy insulation and is damn warm and very multi purpose. That’s a hundred quid: now you’re festival ready. See below for goretex notes.
3. Tannoy Reveal speakers
Speakers which do not require a separate amplifier, you just plug them into your laptop or Alexa or whatever. Two hundred quid a pair, and up for the bigger models. About as good as you will do for sound quality without going audiophile. Not small speaker bluetooth nonsense, real sound. See below for audiophile notes.
4. Modern binoculars
Doesn’t matter much what you buy, they’re all spectacularly good for whatever price point you buy at. Nikon do outstanding work at a wide range of price points. Why? Because CNC machines are amazing, so quality is cheap.
5. Non-Iron English shirts
Buy on sale in white (bleach ‘em) or a dark color. They last forever and are completely maintenance free - for 25 quid a shirt. When they say “non-iron” these days, they really mean it. These things are made of magic, and by magic, I mean advanced high tech chemical coatings on the fibers so they do not wrinkle. Works like magic.
6. Real microphones
What everybody buys is just fine. Pair with Grado headphones, available at a range of prices, for optimal listening experiences. Laptop headphone jacks often have very poor sound quality: USB audio devices are awesome now.
7. Petzl Zipka head torch
Staggeringly bright, twenty five quid, and another twenty for a rechargeable lithium-ion battery which will keep it running for days. Pair with a USB solar panel - these are also quite good. For even more light adjustable both in brightness and beam width, on eneloop AAs. These things are unimaginable improvements on “the flashlight”.
An antihistamine which actually works for me: non-drowsy, and more effective than that old sledgehammer, Benadryl. This drug has changed my life. Kestine aka Ebastine is a close second.
9. Stainless steel everything
Cups, glasses, mugs, plates, bowls, those funny metal trays with separate meal compartments. Easy to clean, lasts forever, costs nothing.
10. Parachute bags
Small bags for tidying odds-and-ends into. Just superb. Manufactured in ripstop nylon and sold for a dollar, these would heal our cluttered, untidy world. These toy bags open out into a five foot diameter play mat and are great for adults to store random collections of things they need to rummage through. Also available in nylon.
11. D2 steel knives
D2 knives are a quarter of the price of S30V or VG10 steel, and indestructible. Use a 400 grit (“fine”) diamond stone to sharpen. Learn how from youtube. A “choil” is compulsory for safety, missing from sleek knife designs.
12. Byrd and Spyderco knives
They’re all great (don’t overspend, they don’t get any sharper) and when it is dull, send it to a professional to get it sharpened. Don’t sharpen it yourself (it is quite a skill to master, though they do sell their own sharpening system) A multitool instead? Swisstool or Leatherman are excellent, SOG and Gerber have more features, lesser build.
On knives. Knives cut meat. Axes chop wood. Hunting knives are sold as knives that can serve as backup axes if you lose your axe. Axes get you shelter and fire, but a knife that can axe is a hell of a knife: therefore expensive.
13. Dyneema cord
Looks like paracord, but 4x as strong. A 2mm line will hold 400 kg, for maybe 25 cents a meter. 80lb cord is sold as fishing line for 20 dollars a kilometer. Do not cut your fingers off with this stuff, it is stronger than steel cable. It has zero stretch or give, which is ideal for things like holding up poles for canopies or radio masts.
14. Delrin rod
Dense plastic ideal for fighting sticks. 12mm at 1m length is ideal. $10. Much better than a baseball bat. Griptape.
15. Modern wifi routers
I have an Archer C7. I bought it a month ago. It’s been on the market for years. It was less than $100.
My household wifi got 4x faster overnight, and the range was huge. They’ve been working super hard on wifi equipment for a few years, and there have been massive breakthroughs. Netgear, D-Link, TP-link all good.
16. Aluminium tube camp chairs
Helinox started the trend, now there are dozens, down to $20. If you weigh a lot, get a Helinox.
17. Swatch automatic watches
Less than 200 dollars, pretty or mechanically groundbreaking. Self-winding (automatic) watches are cool and sort of magical, but if you want quality that doesn’t cost the price of a car, the Swatch models are excellent. You do not need a dive watch: professional divers wear butt-ugly G-Shocks or similar rubber-and-batteries contraptions.
Watch fetishism really takes off after WW2 when pilots keep their service watches after the war: don’t be a sucker.
18. Camelbak Chute insulated bottles
Wide mouth for getting ice in, narrower opening with beautiful ergonomics for drinking - the cap only needs a half turn to open, yet is completely secure. Ok thermal performance. Zojirushi flasks with the flip top hold heat better.
19. Tea tree oil
Generic wound treatment. Stuff stops bleeding fast, doesn’t get infected. Better than anything over the counter.
20. Shade cloth
An agricultural product designed for livestock and crops. It’s like shredded woven space blankets, but very tough. Makes a very effective sun shade, enough air moves through for a nice breeze. A must for decks in hot climates, string with bungee cord so it doesn’t get damaged by the wind. Rain goes through, of course.
21. Aviation snips
Scissors with heavy cunningly designed and highly leveraged handles, think 20% bolt cutters, 80% fabric shears. They make materials like coke or soup cans easy to work with for small projects. Very safe to use compared to cutting heavy materials with a knife and ruler. There’s just a lot less that can go wrong. Easy to use and powerful.
22. New generation velcro
Softer and fuzzier than old velcro, with a much smoother and more satisfying tear-open. The most useful form is a roll of double sided, hooks one side, loops on the other. Cut bits off for ties and wraps as needed. They also do a rather lovely utility strap which wraps around boxes or other loads and puts a convenient handle on top.
23. Wood burning camp stoves
Many outstanding designs. I love wood gasification, dislike rocket stoves. From 100 gram Lixada, up to the two foot wide Yukon (one day I’ll have one of these and woods to put it in!), to the specialized mKettle, they’re all great. You can fly with a clean stove in your luggage, and not have to hit an outdoor store to buy camping gas on the way to your adventure. Check local fire regulations! Written at a time when most of the world is still reeling from covid, this feels strange to write: flying is a memory.
24. Cheap mechanical keyboards
50 different varieties. My favorite was $40. Deep rabbit hole, just read some reviews and take a risk: a tactile thing is hard to buy over the internet. Any of them will beat any keyboard you’ve ever used. Also, learn to touch type.
25. Air fryers
A mini super fan oven which cooks three times as fast as a regular oven. Makes meat - sausages, bacon, even steak - which looks like adverts for meat. 7 minutes for bacon. Zero mess, and also makes french fries. Many brands, I have Phillips. Look for anything with a thousand 5 star reviews on Amazon: selective pressure is intense these days! Don’t bother with the sous vide machine routine, unless you are a culinary hobbyist. It was great for exhibition cooking, like at christmas. Now? Dust magnet. Convenience is king, and sous vide is inconvenient.
26. Food cubes
Single portion plastic tubs which nest, and are extremely robust. Cook large, eat leftovers. Dishwasher safe. Always make sure there are three meals ready to go in the fridge, and you’ll entirely stop ordering food in. Mark the date the food was prepared with a whiteboard marker or a grease pencil.
27. Whiteboard markers
Pentel Maxflow are filled with liquid ink, visible through the side of the pen. When the ink is gone, the pen immediately and completely stops working: none of those terrible scrubby dead pens nobody cares enough to throw out. Four colors, also available in single color “lifetime supply” boxes of 12. You’ll wonder why others exist.
28. Heavy probiotics for travel
Take one with each meal, nothing ever goes wrong. It’s amazing. On one unpleasant occasion I had to manage a giardia infection for a month without proper medical treatment. Turns out large doses of “friendly bacteria” out-compete nearly all forms of food poisoning, even holding the giardia at no symptoms. A travel essential.
29. Double walled glasses for hot and cold drinks
A simple pleasure. Experiments with larger vessels like teapots were unsatisfactory. If you want insulation at scale, you need steel. There are a few insulated teapots and coffee presses out there, none that I’ve seen stand out.
30. Silicon keyboard saver for Mac laptops
Recent mac laptops have very fragile keyboard switches. The tiniest piece of grit can kill a key. There is an ugly solution which works really well: no problems in several years of use. But it’s a little ugly. Quality varies.
Materials science and cadcam have