Snow camping

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

Ultralight Backpacking Fuels, Alcohol and Esbit – Insights from the field

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

Dry baking

P1010157Freshly baked food is a hit in the outdoors. The means to this delicious end are many.  I remember twisting dough onto a stick and roasting it over an open fire as a Boy Scout. With open fires, reflector ovens and Dutch Ovens have a great history. Fry bread and bannock cooked over open fires or stoves also have their place. However, when open fires and heavier cooking gear are no longer part of the picture, baking becomes more difficult.

The reward for solving this problem – fresh baked backpacked food – is so compelling that a number of light weight solutions have emerged. Continue reading

Stoves and fuel

Surf's upThough hardly a kid any more, I still like to play with fire. I have cooked on wood, white gas, kerosene, butane, alcohol and Esbit tablets. I have owned a lot of stoves, used and built a bunch more. Making fire to heat and/or cook food is so central to backpacking that a large acreage of blogosphere is devoted to it. So here are my current and recent solutions, appropriately in a very long post.

I really like Caldera cones, made by Trail Designs. I like them so much that I build custom cone shaped windscreens to fit my favorite stove and pot combinations. The cone windscreen design protects the stove from wind, vastly improves heat transfer to the pot and provides a temperature protected environment for combustion. Cold weather performance loss is much less. And the cone shaped windscreen/pot support is stable – no more noodles spilled on the ground.

My kitchen goal is the ability to cook, including simmering and dry baking with a stove/windscreen setup that will stow inside the pot. Continue reading