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 →
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 →
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 →
“You pay a lot for what you don’t get.” This has long been my advice to people confronting the higher cost of lighter weight sports equipment. At some point I wondered if there was a representative price for the privilege of shaving off pounds. I looked at a couple of cases comparing lower cost, heavier items with their high-tech cousins. $100 per pound saved looks typical. This order of magnitude number seemed to work whether the weight savings were a pound or a few ounces.
Of course it makes a difference whether you are choosing between two items to purchase, or buying something to be lighter than what you already own.
Replacing my pack
I owned a pretty good Gregory internal frame pack, weighing 3 lbs. 3 oz. I replaced it with a Ray-Way pack kit with a finished weight of 12 oz. The kit cost me about $80 with extra parts. That’s a savings of 2 lbs. 7 oz. If I don’t charge for my labor, that’s about $33 per pound saved. Looks like a good deal. If I couldn’t or didn’t want to make a kit, I would need to look elsewhere. Continue reading →
This section covers my “people’s choice awards”. Items here just really work and show outstanding design.
Long handled titanium spoon
I have owned this spoon for a number of years. I originally found it on a cottage ultra-light website, but now even REI carries something similar. Mine is polished, which I like better than darker, unfinished titanium.
The design allows you to eat out of freezer bags. I don’t do this, but I will eat out of pots, where the long handle helps. I like the hard titanium for stirring food off the bottom of pots during simmering. The spoon is tough and cleans up easily. It is too long to pack into most cooking kits, but I always have somewhere to keep it. At 1.2 oz. it earns it’s keep in my kitchen. Continue reading →
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.
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 →