Backcountry Electronics Revisited – 5 years later

Guess what, 5 years later I am on another generation of backcountry tech devices.   Back then, I was carrying a Spot Connect satellite communicator, a Samsung Galaxy III smart phone and a Garmin Oregon 400 handheld GPS.  I still carry the same 3 functions, but now it’s a new Garmin InReach Mini, a Galaxy 7, and an Oregon 600.  And, no surprise, they are better. The GPS and smartphone were replaced as they died or aged.  The new Garmin satellite communicator just out performed the competition.

Garmin InReach Mini

The InReach Mini gives me two way SMS communication, which is the new standard for backcountry satellite devices.  Emergency notification with location (“calling in the cavalry”)  was the first popular backcountry satellite application and still remains an important, if hopefully infrequently used, function. Now having been on the receiving end of one of these contacts, I can say that it is useful, but still leaves lots of room for confusion.  Being able to confirm and detail the nature of the emergency and have two way communication with responders makes life better and safer for all concerned.  Expanding that two way capability to ordinary messaging offers a new level of utility.  Both current SPOT and Garmin InReach devices do this.  For higher annual subscription costs, you can also add connection to social media and location tracking.  But I am quite happy with a basic level plan.  Compared to the SPOT X communicator, the InReach Mini is a hands down winner and when my annual SPOT contract was up, I switched. Continue reading

A nesting backpacking kitchen

Kitchen packedI have a friend whose backpacking kitchen is only a single small Titanium mug and a folding Esbit stove.  He pretty much always cooks the same one pot meal.  By the end of a trip he is pretty tired of it, but his set weighs little and he doesn’t spend a lot of time cooking.  Sometimes this is a good answer, and sometimes you want more.  As I have accumulated kitchen stuff, the goal of having it all (or most of it) in a light weight, compact package has been an itch.  This post presents the current state of that quest.

So here is my 16 piece compact, complete kitchen, all packed up sitting beside two gas canisters for scale.  It is versatile, light, compact, complete, and rugged.  With it I can boil, simmer, bake, mix, hydrate, cozy, measure, prepare multi course meals, serve and clean up.  All together, without fuel, it weighs 22 oz., and is about the volume of two 8 oz. fuel canisters.  But of course you only need to bring the parts you are planning to use with that trip’s menu.  Further, by swapping out the stove and windscreen combination, it has multi-fuel capability.  So what’s in it?KitchenItems Continue reading

In the mountains with a Kovea Spider Stove, Flat Cat Gear and blueberries

In January I posted my first impressions and tests of the Kovea Spider stove.  I tested it in my backyard with my collection of pots and windscreens to bake bread and make reasonable pancakes.  This summer, the stove has accompanied me on a number of climbs and backpack trips and I have used it with some of Jon Fong’s Flat Cat Gear accessories.  It’s good stuff.

If you spend time in the field, you know that many things must come together for a good kitchen kit.  Weight, of course, is important.  Packing volume also counts.  And you must be able to do the cooking you want in real backcountry and mountain conditions.  My kitchen is built around three pots, the 1 L and .78 L Ti pots of a Snow Peak Multicompact set and a 0.6 L Snow Peak Ti mug.  I need windscreens to match the pots and the stoves I plan to use for any particular trip.  For solo and individual cooking on group trips, I usually stick with the .78 L Snow Peak pot.  For couples backpacking, the 1 L pot does most of the work, and I often take a second pot to have something clean for heating water after cooking.  So any new stove must be properly introduced to these pots and find a way to work and travel efficiently with them.

My first trials with the Kovea Spider were focused on baking and I used the big 1 L Snow Peak pot and its matching Trail Designs Caldera Cone Ti windscreen.  It worked well, but the windscreen doesn’t pack into a pot.  On some higher alpine climbs this summer, I took the Spider and my smaller .78 L pot, together with a split cone windscreen I had been using with an alcohol burner.  It worked, sort of.  Then I had a chance to try out some Flat Cat Gear windscreens designed just for the Kovea stove for a much better solution.

For larger pots, the Flat Cat Bobcat Kovea windscreen is a winner. Continue reading

Tarp tenting

“Almost tarp” tent

Tarp shelters are a common solution to ultralight camping.  They are simple, light and easy to build.  But they only provide a roof.  Walls (bug protection) and floor are extra or missing. “Almost tarp” tents address this.  My Six Moons design Night Wing tent is a good example.

The Night Wing is basically a tarp with netting closing the ends and edge.  It couples with a custom Tyvek 1443R floor.  But on a recent alpine climb approach, I was bothered by a lot of condensation that was wetting out my sleeping quilt.  Adding a bivy bag over the quilt or bag would give me both warmth and separation from condensation.  But that’s another pound!.

Alpine tarp bivy

The next outing involved two nights at a high camp at 7500′.  I decided to go lighter taking only an old sil-nylon tarp I made a few years ago and my very old Early Winters Gore-Tex bivy bag, to which I had recently added a waterproof zipper.  It worked, but the tarp had been designed only as a cooking shelter and was really not long enough to fully cover the bivy bag.  In practice this should not be an issue to have a waterproof bag sticking out into the rain, but….  In thinking about it, I wondered if I could easily improve things. A few hours of sewing and an ounce of fabric later, problem solved.

Continue reading

Some more cool ultralight stuff

Innovative, cottage manufacturers continue to offer great new ultralight products to make your life better in the backcountry.  Here are a few I have added to my pack recently.

For Better Cat Holes

I do enough off trail travel to camp at spots without established toilet facilities.  That means digging cat holes.  For a long time I carried a standard orange plastic digging trowel that weighed about 4 oz..  Mike Cleland’s Ultralight book converted me to carrying an extra aluminum “Y” tent stake – 0.6 oz.  It’s much lighter and can scratch out holes after a fashion.  But where there is dense vegetation root structure, the resulting holes leave something to be desired.  I found a new supplier of ultralight gear who makes some nice products.  Now a Lawson Equipment aluminum Potty Trowel – 1.3 oz. – comes on all trips.  It has a nice grip.  The blade cuts roots well and it really moves dirt to make a hole that is big enough to work properly.  That’s a lot of improved function for an extra 0.7 oz. and a best buy at $10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multipurpose titanium tent stakes

There was a time when I felt the cost of titanium tent stakes was not worth the weight saved.  Continue reading

Backcountry bread and pancakes with a Kovea Spider Stove

The Kovea Spider remote canister stove looks like a pretty neat concept.  It is compact and lightweight at 6.1 oz.  The remote canister setup works with a cone style wind screen.  Invert the canister for a cold weather liquid feed mode, enabled by the stove’s preheater tube.  Use two medium size binder clip handles support the inverted canister – a trick gleaned from the Internet.  With the legs folded for storage, it is compact enough to fit inside my titanium pots.

The stove is not widely available in the US, although Jon Fong at Flat Cat Gear carries it and sells integrated cooking systems for it.  My stove was made for the domestic home market and came with  Korean language instructions.  No big deal, it works just like a canister stove.  But it shines in its ability to integrate with ultra light cooking gear, pulling off tricks likes making pancakes and bread!  I had tried both these cooking chores with alcohol stoves getting somewhat mixed results. The Kovea Spider adds just the right final touch to make it all work.

Backcountry dry baking is a craft I learned from Jon Fong’s website and his YouTube videos.  I have used it with alcohol and Esbit cooking in the past, most successfully for biscuits as discussed in my old post: Dry baking.  But for good pancakes and bread, you need some additional help. Continue reading

Tent tuning

No matter how I pitched it my Night Wing tent from Six Moons Designs came out with a big wrinkle in the side. I thought it was my fault.  The tent is built from plans but I added some features.  Like all center ridge tents, the side walls sag claustrophobically into the volume of the tent.  So I added side pulls both at the bottom and midway up the side panels.  In a hurry to finish the tent, I did not get the pulls even on both sides.

Oh, well, the wrinkle was mostly an aesthetic issue.  But on a recent trip, I tumbled on a solution.

It turns out that the location of the middle stake loop on the panel lower edge is critical to getting a tight pitch. I moved one loop on one side of the tent. That aligned things so that now the the wrinkles are smaller and symmetric. And I still have the interior volume I like.

 

Here it is pitched on trekking poles.  Now I have my go-to solo tent, with 26 sq. ft. of floor space, good bug screening, an integrated Tyvek ground cloth, stakes and stuff sack all weighing in at 1 lb. 14 oz and fewer wrinkles