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

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

A comfort light trip and a bright idea.

Bilgy2This 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.

LuminAID-PackLite-16-Solar-Inflatable-LanternOne of the packed extras was a LuminAID PackLite 16 solar light.  Continue reading

Lots of pots

In my experience, pots happen. Somehow finding just the right pot to fit a stove, or a place in the pack, or getting something a little bigger or smaller or lighter has led to quite an accumulation.P1010968

Older backpackers, who still have sharp eyes, can spot the once ubiquitous “Nesting Billy” style aluminum pot. There is a set of smaller, anodized aluminum pots that I used for a long time before the anodizing started wearing off. (Cleaning burnt food off the bottom had something to do with it.) My current favorites are titanium Snow Peak pots. They are light, pretty tough, clean up easily and tolerate serious overheating (for dry baking). I pair them with cone windscreens described in my Stoves and Fuel post. Really pots, stoves and windscreens form a system. When I pick a pot, and a stove, then I will take the windscreen that matches. 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