One of the important issues in winter camping is procuring water. Typically that means melting snow. This requires a lot of fuel and a stove/fuel combination that works well in cold weather. For may years, conventional wisdom recommended pumped white gas stoves. More recently, pressure regulated, iso-butane canister stoves have gotten the nod as long as it isn’t really! cold. The venerable classic Mountaineering – The Freedom of the Hills, now in its 9th edition, states that alcohol as a fuel is best for “Ultralight cooking on long trips where melting snow or ice is not required.” Five years ago, I posted about winter/snow camping. Most of the post focused on the challenges of adding a 4th season to your outdoor trips, but also I used an alcohol stove for melting snow. It worked and since then I have built more stove/windscreen combinations and wondered if the changes I was making might also improve snow melting. So on a recent nice February day I went snowshoeing to find out. Continue reading
After a new ship is launched, it gets to meet the ocean for the first time with “sea trials”. As our parks reopen and snow leaves the high country, it was time to get out for gear trials with recent projects. I headed for a Park camp adjoining a couple of sub-alpine lakes at about 4700′. The forecast was for a nice day, followed by a weak front overnight with a chance of rain in the morning. As the first backpack of the season, I wanted to reality test my current set-up. I had finished a new tent – the Hex-Lite. My ultra-light bivy would serve as a quilt and air pad cover. I was planning to Esbit cook with a single pot. It was time to test a new Therm-a-Rest NeoAire Xlite air pad. My Big Agnes pad no longer held air overnight and was 6 years old. New gear keeps betting better. The Therm-a-Rest, with pump sack weighs only 15 oz., a 5 oz. improvement.
My claim for Comfort light backpacking is a 15 lb. base weight. For this trip, my actual was 16 lbs. – close enough. With overnight food and water, I left the car at 21 lbs. (I don’t really count fuel separately anymore, since for this trip it was 3 Esbit tabs – 1.5 oz.) Everything packed easily into my 2800 cu. in (46 L) RayWay pack, with the extension collar almost completely rolled down on top. Now over 7 years old, it is still a very comfortable pack to carry. Continue reading
I continue to be a big fan of titanium for ultralight applications. A cylindrical titanium windscreen might make a ultralight, minimalist cooking kit. This one was easy to build, weighs just 52 g. with two titanium stakes that serve as pot support and pin the windscreen closed. It is sized to work with a Toaks 750 ml. titanium pot and either an Esbit tablet or alcohol burner. On the trail, it seems a rugged and solid performer
I started with some titanium sheet from Ruta Locura. The windscreen has 5/8″ holes around the base on the handle cutout side. When the windscreen is rolled and pinned, 3 of the 8 holes overlap to give adequate combustion air inlet. Stake height is set at 3″ to place the pot high enough above the tablet for good combustion. Overall, the windscreen is 6″ tall by 24″ long, with a 5″ diameter as assembled. In use, place the handle cutout and combustion holes away from any wind.
A bottom sheet of folded kitchen aluminum foil completes the combustion space. The Esbit tablet sits in a Trail Designs Gram Cracker holder. Under the holder is a little Ti pan, folded out of Ti scrap from the windscreen stock to contain any Esbit flare ups. Continue reading
I 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? Continue reading
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.
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
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
While it may be spring in the lowlands, there is still 14 feet of snow on the ground at 5,000′ elevation in the Pacific Northwest. A brief 2 day weather window provided a great opportunity to test a lot of snow camping gear and ideas. How do lightweight backpacking solutions translate into this environment? Are the solutions still lightweight?
As the Black Diamond Mega Light tent project progressed, I started a planning spreadsheet to see what the weight penalty would be adding a 4th season to comfort light backpacking. The answer looked like it might be about 10 lbs. But there were questions. Would I be warm enough sleeping? Could I use an alcohol stove to melt snow?
Snow cover transforms the wilderness experience. Summer trails exist only in concept, sometimes continued between storms as well used trenches. But otherwise you have freedom to go elsewhere. Camp sites are no longer limited to established locations. Adequate snow depth provides opportunities for creative site preparation. And of course, in nice weather the scenery is stunning. But the level of commitment is higher. Weather windows and daylight hours are shorter. Travel is slower and cold is the ever present concern. None the less, my friend and I felt we had done our preparation well and were ready for some field time. Continue reading
Alcohol stove fuel and Esbit tablets really can be the workhorses of ultralight cooking. The usual canister vs. alcohol vs. Esbit review doesn’t really capture practical or best practices approaches to these two fuels. Here are my tips on how I make these fuels work well for me in my backcountry kitchen to boil water, to rehydrate a freeze dried meal or bake a chocolate cake. Even in the rain.
It’s not just the fuel, but really the whole system that counts. That includes fuel, burner, pot support, windscreen, simmer control, stove lighting and extinguishing, burn time, outdoor temperature sensitivity, refueling ease, fuel storage and some factor for operating fussiness. Add to this weight and cost considerations for both the basic system and for fuel and you will be well on your way to making choices. Some popular stove products do a good job on addressing most issues, think Jet-Boil. See how I do better. Continue reading
This spring I am helping with our outdoor club’s courses on wilderness travel and backpacking. To practice what I am preaching and prepare for an upcoming trip, my wife and I took a leisurely backpack up a wilderness river valley in Olympic National Park. Snow remains in the high country, but we had spring flowers, fresh bear scat just before camp and evening Harlequin ducks feeding in the river.
Since this was just an overnight family outing, I felt I could pack some extras. I even brought a small can of chicken! Still, playing Sherpa, my walk-away-from-the-car weight was only 28 lbs. and my wife carried 15. With two people, this was a trip for the Bilgy2 tent. We had a large camp site all to ourselves and were joined at supper time by another couple who set up on an adjacent river island.