During a break in our seemly endless series of Pacific Northwest winter rains/snows, I took a day snowshoe hike on a familiar ridge in Mt. Rainier National Park. It seem like a good day for a stove experiment. Normally on winter outings, I take along a 20 oz. capacity stainless steel thermos, fitted with a reflective foil insulating wrap. At lunch, even in winter, it provides steaming hot water for instant espresso spiked hot chocolate drinks. On this trip, I opted to leave the thermos behind and take my small solo stove setup based on a Toaks 750 ml. titanium pot and windscreen to provide the heat. That meant I could forgo the normal cold sandwich and have my favorite trail hot meal – Annie’s Microwave White Cheddar Mac & Cheese with some maple flavored bacon jerky bits thrown in for good measure, plus the normal mocha hot drink. My little stove setup is designed to be fired either with alcohol or Esbit tablets, which were the choice for this trip. Continue reading
Category Archives: MYOG
Melting Snow with an Alcohol Stove
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
Where to get DIY ultralight backpacking gear materials
So you’ve decided to enter the wonderful world of DIY (do it yourself) / MYOG (make your own gear) because the result will be lighter, cheaper, better, just what you want, or all of the above. But a lot of the materials for these projects don’t show up in your local stores. This post shares my favorite suppliers for a wide range of projects I have completed.
Certainly one of the revolutions in ultralight gear is the availability of new fabrics. Dynema Composite Fiber (DCF) may be the hottest, newest, lightest thing on the block, but it is also quite pricey. I am very happy with the new silicone impregnated polyesters. Ripstop By The Roll has become my go-to source for fabric, with a great selection, good prices and fast service. I currently use their Membrane Silpoly, weighing 0.93 oz./sq.yd., for waterproof applications. For breathable fabric with a durable water repellent finish, Membrane 15 poly taffeta, 0.9 oz./sq.yd. works well. The standard 1.3 oz./sq.yd. silicone coated nylon ripstop is still a good choice for a waterproof and slightly tougher fabric. Plan to buy a little more than you need to cover mistakes and build your collection of small pieces that are great for stuff sacks, etc. If you don’t want to start from scratch, check out their selection of kits or project plans. Ripstop By The Roll also carries batting insulation, and a selection of bug netting and other components such as webbing, buckles, zippers, velcro and thread. Continue reading
Gear Trials – A Comfort light trip in Mt. Rainier NP
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
HexLite – Making a spacious, full featured, sub 2 lb. tarp tent.
YouTube videos for tarp tents often show a 3 meter x 3 meter tarp being pitched a number of different ways. One makes a single pole, hexagonal tent with a large interior and overhanging entry, It is described as a great emergency shelter, roomy and quickly pitched. I wondered if it could be made as a stand-alone lightweight backpacking tent.
I experimented with a cheap 10′ x 10′ blue plastic tarp to visualize the design and interior space. Using some of the new, reasonably priced, lightweight coated polyester fabrics now on the market, how light could it be? Well, it’s finished and what’s not to like about a final overall weight of just 1 lb. 14 oz., including a 42 sq.ft. floor, 49″ center pole, stakes, bug netting door, and stuff sack.
I started with 7 yds. of silicone impregnated, 0.93 oz./sq.yd., Membrane Silpoly fabric from Ripstop by the Roll. Continue reading
A DIY, ultralight, multipurpose bivy sack
In the past, on some multi-day climbs, I slept under a tarp, with my quilt and air mattress inside a bivy sack. I also had other nights in a tent, in alpine country, with condensation wetting out my exposed quilt. Sometimes in shoulder seasons, my quilt isn’t quite warm enough. Then this year I discovered a great source of ultralight fabric. These were all motivations to try another project – an ultralight bivy, with options for bug protection and a cold weather liner. I finished it and have now tried it out successfully on a cold night.
The fabric source is Ripstop by the Roll. They offer a wide assortment of coated and uncoated nylon and polyester at weights as low as 0.56 oz. per square yard. Continue reading
Making an ultralight titanium multi-fuel windscreen
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
A nesting backpacking kitchen
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
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!.
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.
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