Thursday, August 3, 2017

Choosing Your First Backpacking Stove

Whether you are buying your first backpacking stove or looking to upgrade or downgrade, there is no shortage of products on the market to consider.

If you are the casual backpacker, like me, it's easy to get wow'ed by all the different choices out there.  We've got Canister Style Stoves, Wood Burning Stoves, Fuel Tablet Stoves like the Esbit, and Alcohol Style Stoves.  And I'm sure I haven't named them all.

The question is...are any or all of these worth the investment?  I'm like most any guy and I like to have stuff.  Having a few different style stoves is fun and can make the camping experience all the more enjoyable as you try one stove this trip then choose another the next trip.  But, like most others, I don't have unlimited resources so I've got to make choices on how and where to spend my money for this awesome hobby.

Before you run out and buy your first stove, I'd suggest you start off with the absolute rock-bottom investment and make your own alcohol stove.  Pair that with a dehydrated meal or two and you're off and running.  We'll talk about that homemade alcohol stove in a sec but first just let me digress for a moment.

Yes, eating a great meal is important to having a great time.  At least it is for me and my gang of backpackers.  We like to eat well at the end of the day and first thing in the morning a hot cup or two of coffee is super important to me having an enjoyable time.  With that said, you can have an absolute fantastic meal by going with a Mountain House, Backpacker's Pantry or Packit Gourmet Dehydrated Meal.  And all you need to enjoy one of those is about 12-14oz of boiling water.

Every one of the stoves I list below does a great job of boiling water.  There are about [5] Characteristics of Backpacking Stoves that make some the right choice for your needs and some not so much.
  • Investment - The Home Made Alcohol Stove is the front runner here in the short term.  You can make one for under $1 but you'll have to constantly invest in your fuel source.  Boiling 12-16 ounces of water takes about 1 to 1.5 ounces of Alcohol and that stuff is really inexpensive.
  • Pack Weight/Volume - That Home Made Alcohol Stove scores high marks here as well.  Even with a few days worth of fuel, you'll hardly notice it in your pack.
  • Fuel Source - Any of the wood burning style Backpacking Stoves top the charts in this category since you'll never have to pay for your fuel nor will you have to pack it in or out with you.
  • Wow Factor - The Biolite Stove takes first place in this category in my opinion.  Not only does it take an unlimited free fuel source [wood, pinecones, etc] it also has a thermocouple which can change that heat energy into electricity to charge your electronic devices.  That's really something to brag on.  There's been more than one occasion that I've almost pulled the trigger on one of these.
  • Speed & Finesse - The Canister Style Stove just as the MSR Pocket Rocket or Jetboil Flash are the winners here.  I've boiled two cups of water [starting at around 60F] in a whopping three minutes with my MSR Canister stove.  That's over twice as fast as my Alcohol stove.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Our first style stove is the Canister Style Backpacking Stove.  The Jetboil Flash is aptly named with lighting fast Boil Times of just over 2 minutes and is one of the premier canister style stoves in the market.

Jetboil offers quite a few models with prices starting near $80 and moving up from there.

Note though that those prices, although a little high include a complete cook system [minus the fuel canister] with a burner, canister stand, pot, lid and cozy.

That's not a bad deal for all that gear.  You're completely set for cook gear with one purchase.

One great advantage the Canister Style Stove offers in addition to it's duper fast boil times is a fuel control knob.  That adjustment allows quite a bit more finesse in cooking and sautéing over just the standard full on flame 'boil my water' play.  And it saves fuel.

Coming in as an honorable mention Canister Style Stove is the MSR Pocket Rocket.  I own it's little brother the Micro Rocket and it's a great little stove that packs up small and weighs next to nothing.

Both the Pocket Rocket and the Minor Rocket are very similar and as will all canister stoves, they both have that same standard fuel canister threaded connection which is universal for all different makes of fuel canisters.  So there's no worry about which fuel to buy - MSR, Jetboil and Primus are some of the most popular brands.
Next in our lineup of stove types is the Wood Burning Camp Stove Style.  The Toaks Titanium Stove is one of many, many brands and style of woodturning stoves but nearly all follow the same principle.

The distinct advantage of this style stove is the limitless supply of free fuel available.  In a downpour this style stove would be tough to use unless there was overhead cover and some dry kindling but all that aside this style seems to be a popular choice.

I doubt there will be one of these in my future as I'm all about the campfire at my campsite anyway.  For my needs, I don't see this style stove as useful.  They are relatively slow to start and slow to boil water.  And some wood burning style stoves are manufactured of titanium which can easily run in the $80-$90 plus range.

The pocket style Esbit or Fuel Tab Stove is lightweight and super inexpensive.  Some of these style stoves can run under $10 with Fuel Tabs costing under $1/ea.

Aside from the advantages of super low cost, super low pack weight and relatively low fuel cost comes the additional benefit of it's ease of use even in wet weather.

The Esbit Fuel Tabs take a flame very easy and burns for about 8 minutes which is ample time to boil 2 cups of water for that dehydrated meal and a quick cup of coffee.

The "WOW-FACTOR" award goes to the Biolite Camp Stove.  It certainly takes low marks on up front cost and in pack weight but if you're the kind of backpacker that likes a little more pizzaz in your gear, you might want to consider this Backpacking Stove.

The unlimited fuel source of wood and/or pine cones makes this a one time investment that's always at the ready.  And the super cool Thermocouple which converts heat energy into low voltage re-charge power for your mobile device makes this stove awesome.

I haven't seen any bad reports about poor reliability or short lifespan on the thermocouple so that's good.  But at $130 or so, this one just might need to be a gift to me from someone in order for me to own one.  Still, I'd have to say that I'd be really happy with one in my pack.

The real stand out winner in my list of Backpacking Stoves is the Home Made Alcohol Stove.  Designs vary but they all operate much the same way with the same general effectiveness.  They are super simple to make and require very few tools.

The only downside [and its barely that] is that there is no real flame control so once they are lit they basically burn at the same rate until the fuel is exhausted.  If you need to adjust heat, it all about moving the pan away from the flame.  Not a big deal to me since I'm almost always about boiling water and little else.

Boil times are also on par with the woodburing style stoves so there's no big advantage either way.  But at less than $5 to make even the souped-up styles, I just love it.

As I pointed out in the beginning.  If I could roll back the clocks, I'd save the money I spent on my canister stove and spend it elsewhere.  The Alcohol Stove does everything I need it to.  I hope that helps you make a good decision on your first or next Backpacking Stove.

Are you of the same opinion as me on the Alcohol Stove?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Sawyer Mini Water Filter versus the Katadyn Befree

I've had the Sawyer mini now for about 2 years and it has, without fail, served me well for the parts I choose to use.  One minor [and I mean minor] complaint with the Mini that I have is the Squeeze Pouch that's included with the purchase.  Other than that [and there are some really easy workarounds], the Mini earns a solid 10/10 for price, reliability and pack weight/volume in my opinion.

Whenever I'm on the trail and need to fill up from a non-potable water source, I always use my Mini with a disposable water bottle and my Nalgene.  My disposable bottle is always easy to identify as my 'dirty' water and the Nalgene always as the 'clean.'

I long ago replaced the Squeeze Pouch that came with the Mini with a smartwater bottle.  I've tried other bottles but the smartwater is the best because of it's thicker wall and higher water volume.  Sturdy is a good quality to have out on the trail because if the water bottle fails, I'm out of luck for purifying water - at least with the Mini.

I chose the disposable water bottle over the Sawyer Squeeze Pouch because it's much easier to fill.  The Pouch packs up fabulously and weighs next to nothing, but it doesn't lend itself well to filling up in a slow moving stream or brook.  I've tried it more than a few times and I can only fill it to about 50% capacity.  If I had any input on the design I would have increased it's volume by at least 50%.  That would have added marginal cost to the product but would have given it much higher marks in my opinion.

My setup here on the right is my absolute standard any time I hit the trail [less that Squeeze Pouch].  For me, the Sawyer Mini has proven itself to be a really great, low-cost option [~$20] that should last me a lifetime since it treats over 100,000 gallons of water.  That will produce more clean water than I'll ever drink on the trail.

But like with any new invention or product enhancement, the Katadyn Befree has certainly got my attention.  I already own a low cost, reliable solution so the BeFree would have to seriously tip the scales to have me reaching into my wallet.

I'm not entirely sure when these came out but one look and I can see my biggest complaint against the Sawyer Mini is solved.

The BeFree does come in three sizes - 20oz, 1L, and 3L so I'm certainly not limited to go with the 3L option.  But the price tag of $40 plus tax & shipping on the 20oz has got me a little hesitant.   

That's a fairly good investment over the Sawyer Mini and it's got me wondering if the BeFree's solution to my one little complaint about the Mini is worth the extra cash.  

My first reaction was to add one of these to the cart immediately and check out before they are gone.
But, after some careful consideration, I've decided to hold off.  The filter does has a noticeably faster rate than the Mini which is a slight advantage.  But as I've said before, I'm in no rush once I'm out in the woods.  If it takes me another 3-4 minutes to filter my water, that just doesn't add up to spending another $40 for a very similar setup to what I have now.

And one other serious question I have is the 'toughness' value of that bottle.  I didn't see any info on any manufacturer warranty.  I know that REI would stand behind it forever so that's not a major concern, but unlike the Sawyer Mini that fits most any disposable water bottle, I don't have an endless supply of water containers.  If the BeFree container springs a leak I'm up the proverbial creek until I can get a replacement from the distributor.  

So I guess I'm in a holding pattern for now.  If my Mini fails me or gets lost then the BeFree would be a contender for replacement for sure.

Use another filter system or have some comments about my take on these two?  Let me know in the comments section.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Trail Meals - Dehydrated or MREs?

One of my favorite parts of heading out for an overnight is the food.  I feel a little like a 12 year old Boy Scout heading out for an adventure and making my own dinner out there in the woods is just kinda cool.

I've tried dehydrated meals from several vendors, US Military MREs and bringing my own food [either raw or cooked] and all have their pros and cons for the backpacker.

I'm a fan of all of them for sure and there's no right or wrong food to bring for the most part.  Probably the most important aspect to remember is that ANY food can attract animals.  To keep yourself and your equipment out of harm's way it's best to prepare, eat and store any foodsource at least 100 yards from your campsite.

I've never had an issue with any animal getting into my food but following these simple rules is a great idea to keep that from happening.

I recently tried a dehydrated meal from a company called Packit Gourmet - Shepard's Cottage Pie.  I've got to say it was extremely tasty and fairly easy to prepare.  It was, however, not inexpensive.  After shipping [which was super fast], I probably had invested $10 into that meal.  Was it worth it??  Maybe for the convenience and for the experience, yes.  But their products probably won't be a staple in my backpack.  That's not to say I won't treat myself from time to time.  And to conserve on shipping fees I ordered three of their meals so I'll be having more experience with them.  Pasta Beef Bolognese is the next on my list and from what I hear, it's one of their best sellers.

But I'm here to make the case for the good 'ole MRE or Meal Ready to Eat.  Coming in around $50 - $60 for a case of 12, they can be considered a bargain, especially if you find them locally.  I've got an Army-Navy surplus store just a few miles from me so I've got a source.

For about $5 a package, the MRE has some decent upgrades over the traditional dehydrated meals.  But let's get the cons out of the way first.  I'll bet by the time you see everything the MRE has to offer, you'll be headed out to grab a few for your next trip out.

Here is really the ONLY 'legitimate' downside I see to the MRE and that is the weight.  With most MRE's you're looking at adding a pack weight of about 1 pound versus 8oz - 9oz with a dehydrated meal.  Understand though that to eat that dehydrated meal I will have to bring along around 12oz to 14oz of water.  Now, maybe I can find that water out next to my camp area and maybe not.

Next to the Shepard's Cottage Pie [or any other dehydrated meal], let's see what that potential additional pack weight really brings to the table.

Here's the contents of the MRE:

MRE: Vegetable Lasagna
8.0 oz Vegetable Lasagna - Main Entree
4.5 oz Pears
Poppy Seed Pound Cake
Wheat Bread
Peanut Butter
French Vanilla Cappuccino Instant Powder
Raspberry Kool Aid
Toilet Paper
Moist Towelette
Iodized Salt
Chewing Gum

Just in taste variations alone, the MRE wins hands down in my opinion.  And since all of these items are individually packaged, I can choose to eat them at my leisure or leave them home / pack them out.

Here's what I see as major advantages in the MRE over the Dehydrated Meal:
1) COST - We hashed this one around a bit already - $5.50 versus $10+
2) VARIETY - With the dehydrated meal you get one meal, the MRE offers [normally] a main entree, side dish, dessert, beverage [or 2], snack and more.
3) CALORIE COUNT - I've gotten to the bottom of many a dehydrated meal wishing for more at the end of a long day but the MRE has always delivered more than I wanted.  Sheer calorie volume should be a scale tipper for some of us.
4) FIRE FREE - If you choose to leave behind [or forget] your alcohol stove or canister stove, the MRE has a water activated heat source that can heat your entree.  If you stop and think about it, the dehydrated meal absolutely requires a campfire or stove.  That is an additional time or money investment you may not want to deal with.

So, I've found the MRE hard to beat.  And with 12 different MREs per case, I'm sure to find plenty of variation and something I'm in the mood for.  If you have not tried one yet, check out the local craigslist ads.  I've found them for sale on there for either an entire case at a time or even just a handful of meals.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Boiling Water - Lid or No Lid?

I've often wondered if having the lid on during a boil really makes that much of a difference.  I guess it stands to reason that it should boil faster but I just had to put it to the test.

Any guesses before I reveal the results?  I'll say this much - - the results were completely unexpected.

Cook System: My Self-Made "Carbon Felt Insert" Alcohol Stove
Cook Pot: The Stanley Adventure Camp Cookset
Fuel: Heet in the Yellow Bottle
Wind Screen: Self Made Arizona Iced Tea Type
Water Temp: ~67 F
Water Amount: 12 oz

Test #1: I started off the test with 12 oz of ~67F tap water with no lid and no wind screen.  Results: The water boiled in 5:00 on the nose.  Not a bad temp rise.

Test #2: After I cooled down the pot and re-filled with 12 oz of tap water, again at 67F I decided to not only lid the pot during the boil test, but I also wanted to add my self made windscreen to give what I thought would be the best conditions for a boil.  Results: OVER 6:00!  Shocking.  Common sense told me that the windscreen had to be the culprit.

Test #3: Same conditions, this time without the windscreen.  Results: 4:40.  Now that makes much more sense and that's not a bad time and fuel savings just for putting a lid on the pot.  Additionally, my temp probe didn't allow the lid to completely seal so I'm guessing that with a tighter seal even more time and fuel savings would result.

Got a trail tip you'd like to share?  I know I'll be diving into alternate wind breaks in the future.  I never would have guessed that my wind break was costing me over 1 minute of boil time.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Six Easy Steps to Repairing A SilNylon Tarp

Well, the inevitable happened... My brand new Warbonnet Mambajamba Tarp just received it's first scar - a 1/2" tear.  I've got to admit that this tarp has so far stood up to more 'abuse' than I thought it would.  That's not to say I've abused it, but it has had a few brushes with branches and tree limbs and until recently has come away clean.

So, with this small tear, I've got to make a repair to keep it from getting bigger, letting rain and wind in, etc..  Since I've gone through the process now, I thought I'd share how I did it.  There are a few extra steps you can take to make your repair as close to permanent as possible.  I'd recommend going a little above and beyond to get it done right the first time.

Six Easy Steps to Repairing A Tear on Your Hammock or Tent Tarp

First off, if you aren't carrying a few feet of duct tape on every hiking trip, it's a great idea to start.  Duct tape is a pretty darn good cure all for lots of stuff.  Temporary fixes on tent and tarp tears is one of them and if you need a quick, temporary fix while out on the trail, duct tape is just the thing.

I cut two same sized pieces of duct tape and sandwiched the tear on my Warbonnet Mambajamba right in between them.  To make this fix work, the tarp needs to be dry.  You'll want to cut the duct tape so that it overlaps the tarp tear by about 1/2" to 1" all the way around.

Duct tape was a very solid temporary fix for my tarp and got me through the rest of my trip without a problem.

Once I was back home, I put an order in for a patch kit from Warbonnet Outdoors and at $5 it was certainly a bargain.  **For the record, I'd recommend getting one of these repair kits up front with the tarp purchase and keeping it in your first aid kit.

Step One: Cut a small, oversized square of duct tape and stick it to one side of the tear then turn the tarp over to reveal the rip as shown in the photo. The duct tape will keep the tear closed during the repair and makes it much easier to apply the repair patch.

The tear in the photo above is approximately 1/2" long and the material of construction for the tarp and the patch is 20D Silnylon.

Step Two:  To make the repair strong and if you've got enough patch materials, cut two same sized patches both large enough to cover the tear by at least 1/2".  Ideally, you'll want these patches to be the same size as your temporary duct tape patch underneath.

In a pinch, you can repair with only one patch.  I can't see an advantage in where you place the patch - topside or underside.  Either would work fine.

If you do patch only on one side, after drying, I would add a thin layer of silicone to the side opposite the patch as well.  

That will add a layer of protection and the silicone will also cover the tear to prevent additional fraying.

Step Three:  To ensure the best watertight seal use 100% Silicone Sealer.  I purchased mine directly from the manufacturer but there are plenty of other places to pick this up including the local hardware store.

I'd recommend against super glue or other bonding agents [rubber cement, etc] as they may weaken the Silnylon or not have water repelling characteristics.

Step Four:  With that temporary duct tape patch behind the tear, put a dime sized glob of silicone in the center of the tear and spread a thin layer to all corners.  Be sure to overlap the temporary patch underneath just a bit.

And it's not a problem to use your index finger to spread the silicone around.  The silicone is not toxic, but you'll want to wash your hands when you're done.

Step Five: To ensure the tightest possible bond, apply a thin layer of silicone to the patch before applying the patch to the tarp or tent.  This little extra step can be the difference between your patch seeing you through a few seasons or only one to two outings.

Be generous with the silicone but not so much that extra will squeeze out when the patch is applied.

Step Six:  Once you've got the patch covered with a thin layer of silicone as well, it's time to set it on the tear and apply pressure.

The silicone will cure in about 1 hour depending on the size of your patch and the temp/humidity.

For Best Results:
Once it's cured on this side, turn the tarp over and repeat the process on the opposite side.

Additionally, to add life to your patch, place a small bead of silicone along all the edges to overlap.  This will also guard against the edges or corners turning up.

Go Hit the Trail!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Why Every Backpacker Should Build an Alcohol Stove

Little satisfies quite like the accomplishment of building your own piece of backpacking gear.  That holds especially true for something that works well.  It wouldn't be very worthwhile to build something, no matter the cost, if it didn't accomplish what you set out for, right?

But in the way of backpacking equipment, the camp stove is such an easy build with so little investment of time and money that it really is absolutely essential that every backpacker out there at least give it a chance.
The Upgraded Cat Food Can Stove

Before we get started, first let me point out that the alcohol stove will deliver everything you need for a successful night out on the trail.  But it may not be everything you want.  For one, if you're the kind of backpacker that enjoys the simplicity of quick fix dehydrated meals, then this stove is for you.

If I could do it all over again, I'd save all the money and time I've invested in manufactured camp stoves and put all that toward equipment that will extend my backpacking season - like under quilts, tarps or cold weather gear.  The most enjoyable part of backpacking for me is just being out there.  And if with those saved dollars I can extend my season that's a huge win.

Here's the shakedown...  Even the simplest of Alcohol Stoves will deliver some amazing meals.  Manufacturers like Mountain House, Backpackers Pantry and Packet Gourmet make very affordable and fabulous tasting meals that come to life with Boiling Water only.  And I'm talking meals like Texas State Fair Chili, Spaghetti with meat Sauce, Beef Stew and Scrambled Egg Tortillas.  Those companies have put all the work in ahead of time so that with minimal effort you can enjoy a really satisfying meal.

And for folks like me who just have to have their coffee in the morning, the alcohol stove gets that does with ease as well. Whether I'm in the mood for French Press or Instant Coffee, I'm about 8 minutes away from bliss.  Now, it is true that canister stoves like the MSR series or Jet Boil Product Line will all beat the pants off your little alcohol stove in terms of how fast they can boil water.  But in the end I'm betting you won't miss those 4-5 minutes extra you'll have to wait.  We're out in the woods to enjoy the sights, sounds and peace anyway, right?  I promise you just won't miss those few extra minutes.

The homemade camp stove is no secret.  In fact there are probably 100 videos on You Tube showing you exactly how to make your own.  I'm here to reinforce WHY you should.  It's easy to get excited about some of those latest products and although I am in favor of supporting cottage vendors, I'd rather do it with equipment that I just can't build on my own.

A very reliable, lightweight, low cost camp stove is just so simple to make that I don't see a lot of benefit in buying a manufactured stove.  Even if there was a stove out there that could boil my water in under three minutes, I'm fine with waiting the extra time and in all likelihood, I'm having such great time out in the woods I won't even notice anyway.

Here are two versions of that super simple stove I'm talking about.  With $5-$20 in your wallet and a trip to the store you can build either of these in under the time it takes to read this blog post.  Note: To keep costs down to about $3, build the Simple Stove first.  Take it out for a few test runs then if you want, build the upgrade later.

Let's get to it!  Here's what you'll need:

Simple Stove:

  • Tools 
    • One Hole Paper Punch
    • Black Sharpie [not super necessary but helpful]
  • One Fancy Feast Cat Food Can
  • Fuel - Denatured Alcohol or HEET in the Yellow Bottle


1) For the Simple Stove, grab any Fancy Feast Cat Food Can.  Empty the contents, remove the label and rinse with water.  There will be some glue residue on the outside of the can.  No worries to remove it all.  It will burn off in time.
2) With the lid peeled off, there may be a relatively sharp edge on the inside of the can. You can knock that down using the back of a butter knife but no need to spend a lot of time there.
3) Now we'll prepare to cut holes in the can to allow the flame out around our boil pot.  To do that you'll need that sharpie.  A few things before we lay out the holes.  
          First, it isn't rocket science so there's no need to worry if they aren't all symmetrical or all in perfect alignment.  If that's your thing then by all means, but just a heads up that you haven't got to be super technical here for a great functioning stove.  
          Second, the one thing that is critical is that the holes are placed just under the top rim.  That's a 3oz can and we'll be placing 1oz of fuel in it so keep those holes up high to keep the fuel from spilling out.
Using the sharpie to lay out the holes isn't critical either but if you have one laying around it's not a bad idea.  With the marker in hand, think of the cat food can as an analog clock.  You'll be laying out holes at 6 o'clock, 12 o'clock, 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock.  Make sense?  Once those four are laid out, then just add the other hour marks so that you have 12 equally spaced on the can.
4) Using your single hole punch just punch out the holes in the can.  The holes will punch out with a little extra effort and you'll have to fiddle a little to get the hole puncher back out of the hole you made but with a little effort you'll soon have 12 holes in the can.
5) Now you can stop there or you can punch a second row of holes like I did here -->.  I haven't boil tested one set of holes versus two sets but odds are it makes no appreciable difference.

So there you have it.  Pretty simple and super, super low cost.  

Now it's time to try it out.  One very important thing to remember when using this stove: Never cook food directly over the flame unless you are using drinking alcohol as fuel.  Fuels such as denatured alcohol and HEET will deposit toxins on you food. So, no s'mores or hot dogs with this method of cooking.  For those, just light a campfire.  That's more fun anyway.

With the stove on a heat resistant surface [not like me above!!] pour approximately one ounce of fuel in the can.  This amount of fuel should last about 9 minutes and will bring 2 cups of water to boil in most circumstances.  Ignite the fuel with a match, flint striker or other then let it burn for about 30 seconds.  Most fuels will burn blue so they can be a little difficult to see in the sunlight.  Once it's lit and burning, you will notice that after about 30 seconds the fuel will begin to boil ever so slightly.  That's good.  Now it's time to place your pot [filled with water] on top.

1)  Stove/Flame Going Out - Be sure to wait that 30 seconds or so before placing the pot on the stove. And be sure to lower it slowly so the flame doesn't get snuffed out.  It takes a little practice.  Have fun with it an be patient.  After a few tries you'll have it down.
2)  Fuel consumed before Boil - Usually one ounce of fuel does the trick but in windy or super cold temps it can take longer, i.e. more fuel.  One thing to do to maximize efficiency is to keep the stove protected from the wind.  You can buy or build a windscreen which will cut down on boil time.

Upgraded Stove:
  • Tools
    • Hacksaw
    • Scissors
    • Measuring Tape
  • One Fancy Feast Cat Food Can
  • One Tomato Paste Can
  • Soldering Cloth aka Carbon Felt [Home Depot/Lowes/Ace Hardware]
  • Fuel - Denatured Alcohol or HEET in the Yellow Bottle 
Building this stove is almost easier than the basic stove but it does cost a few more dollars.  The biggest investment is the Soldering Cloth which can run about $15 for a 6"x10" sheet.


Clean out the cat food can as stated above.  Repeat with the Tomato Paste Can.  For this stove, the Fancy Feast Can is a must to use.  There are other similar cat food cans but the tomato paste can fits perfectly in the Fancy Feast.

Once both cans are cleaned out grab your measuring tape and measure the inside height of the cat food can then add one inch.  Transfer that measurement to the tomato paste can and using the marker, scribe that line all the way around the can.  Cut on that line either with a hacksaw or a strong pair of kitchen shears.  It's important to keep that cut very straight.  The additional one inch measurement is not super critical but you'll want to be close to that over or under.

Now, taking the measuring tape, measure the outside diameter of the cat food can.  Transfer that dimension to the carbon felt along with the inside height measured previously.  In essence you will be cutting out a strip of carbon felt which will line the inside of the cat food can.  When the felt is cut out, fit it inside the cat food can and make any necessary adjustments.

Next, grab the One Hole Punch and stand up the tomato paste can so that the cut side is on the bottom.  Make one hole in the top of the can just under the rim.  It doesn't matter where the hole is so long as it is just under the rim.  Next, add 2-3 holes in the bottom of the can.  It doesn't matter exactly where - space them out evenly and keep them right at the bottom.

Lastly, remove the carbon felt from inside the cat food can and wrap it around the bottom of the tomato past can [near the cut edge].  You should find that it is a near perfect fit.  If it overlaps, trim accordingly.  If there is a gap no worries.  With the carbon felt wrapped around the tomato paste can, insert the can into the cat food can in a twisting motion [like you are 'screwing it in].  Take your time here and don't get frustrated.  It can be a snug fit which is what we want.  It will take a little coaxing to get the felt and the tomato paste can fully inserted.  After a few minutes you should be all set.

Now, your stove should look something like this --->.  Notice that hole in the top of the tomato past can?  That's important.  You only need the one but make sure it's on the top.

Add one ounce of fuel in the bottom and wait approx 30 seconds.  Don't light it yet.  What we're waiting for is for the fuel to soak up into the carbon felt.  After those few seconds, light the stove on the outside by the felt.  The flame should spread all the way around the can.

Unlike the Simple Stove you don't need to wait for the alcohol to heat up.  Just set your pot on the top of the tomato paste can and off you go.

This stove is much easier to ignite and with a built in pot stand [the tomato paste can] you don't need to wait to put your pot of water on it.

A few notes before we're done:
  • There is no real difference in boiling times between these two stoves.  They boil water typically within 6-7 minutes with a wind screen.  And both use the same amount of fuel.
  • Keep these stoves on a level surface when in use.
  • I always store my fuel alcohol in a separate location from my food and cooking pots.  It's toxic to ingest but completely safe to use.
  • The fuels I suggested for use do not scorch your pots/pans nor are they overly aggressive burners.  That means they won't 'explode' when you light them.
  • Denatured Alcohol and HEET work best when they are reasonably warm.  If you're out in the woods when it's cold, keep the alcohol in a safe, small container next to your body for a few minutes to warm up before use.
  • Don't store/bring fuel in unnecessarily large volumes with you when camping.  Figure you'll use about 1oz every time you need to boil water and plan accordingly.  Keep in separate small containers and be respectful that it is flammable.  Keep unused fuel away from campfires, candle lanterns and any heat source.
Make a few of these stove and have fun!  Save that hard earned cash for other stuff for the trail!

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Hammock Equipment: The Underquilt

For those of us that absolutely love to hammock camp, there is a decidedly big difference in what it takes to keep warm in the colder months over tent camping.  When outside temps drop below 60F [for some 65F], hammock camping can get downright uncomfortable.  Even what may seem like a mild temperature during the day can cause a major chill in the wee hours of the night when your body slows down and that can make for a really horrible experience.  Trust me, I've been there.  Being cold when trying to sleep just doesn't work.  If you can't get warm, sleep won't come.

My Warbonnet Blackbird and Hammock Gear Incubator 20F
But hammock campers like you and I need not retreat for the season.  With the proper equipment, the hammock season can very easily be extended by 4-8 weeks or more.  And for those that just never say quit no matter the weather, there are means and methods to stay warm in some of the bitterest temps.

One of the  most popular and most effective methods to keep warm is through using what the industry calls an "Under Quilt".  Sometimes referred to as the UQ for short, the under quilt is a layer of insulation [sometimes goose or duck down, sometimes synthetic materials] that is positioned under the hammock and that provides an insulation barrier between you and the wind sweeping underneath.  The thicker that insulation layer, the more protection and warmth you'll receive.

For those that aren't in the know about how insulation works:  Insulation's ability to keep us warm degrades quickly when compressed and most types of insulation also lose thermal value (warming ability) when wet.*  The loft, or thickness, of the insulation layer creates a barrier that heat and cold do not quickly or easily penetrate.  So, keeping that layer between you and the cold keeps the heat your body generates reflected back to you and on the side exposed to the cold, that lower temp air won't easily pass though to you.

*Side note:  I've seen proof that Wiggy's trademarked insulation material called Lamilite actually does not lose it's insulating value even when wet.  That's super impressive and I'm keeping a close eye on their product line as they've recently started a hammock friendly line of insulating products.

As with most anything, if costs aren't a consideration then keeping warm and comfortable is a breeze if you'll pardon the expression.  Down [either from duck or goose] is arguably the best insulation material known.  Again, Lamilite, I'm quickly learning might be a serious contender in the hammock game.  But, by and large, down is the most popular insulating material in Under Quilts and it comes at a fairly high price tag.  Since loft, or thickness, plays a big part in insulating value, the more down in an under quilt, the lower it's temperature rating and the higher the price tag.

Under Quilt "Jargon" Explained:

There are a few buzz words that float around in the Hammock world that made me feel a little uneducated so here's my attempt to get you in the know on all those terms.

Baffles - Most under quilts have pockets of duck or goose down that are sewn into the quilt to keep the stuffing in it's proper place.   Imagine a pillow.  That's one big baffle and if you grab one end of it and shake, the stuffing can tend to move and make the pillow lopsided.

Thus the 'invention' of the baffle.  Some under quilts have more baffles than others and in some synthetics I've seen have none.  I'm a baffle fan.  It makes sense as it keeps the down from moving where you don't want it.

Temperature Ratings - Most manufacturers publish a temperature rating on their under quilts and it's fairly subjective as to how warm you'll be in any of them.  That's not to bunk the ratings that they're given, but rather to just let you know that some people sleep warmer than others.  What might be warm for you might be too warm for someone else or vice versa.  Needless to say, the lower the temperature rating, generally the more down the under quilt contains.

Temperature ratings will hold true looking at under quilts from one manufacturer.  But put two 20 Degree under quilts side by side from different manufacturers and one may very well contain more down than the other.  There doesn't seem be any 'rules' for establishing temperature ratings.

Fill - The term 'fill' is a measurement of the loft or thickness of the down fibers.  Shop around and you'll see ratings of 500, 800, 850 and more. And those numbers correspond to how much space 1 ounce of their fully expanded [non-compressed] duck or goose down takes up in cubic inches.  The higher the number, the more loft and the more insulation value.

Whoa, that's a lot of space you might say.  Yes it is but down is incredibly light so remember that old pound of lead, pound of feathers brain teaser?  The pound of feathers is a great big bag full.

And here's the million dollar question:  Will a 20 degree bag with 700 fill be warmer than a 20 degree bag with 500 fill?  Answer: Not exactly.  The 700 fill bag will have used less down to achieve the 20 degree rating and will weigh less.  But both bags will still get the job done.  When carrying weight is important, the higher fill down products tend to win out.

[Note: all info above on "Fill" courtesy of Eastern Mountain Sports]

Primary and Secondary Suspension - That there's a mouthful.  But in simplest terms, the 'suspensions' in an under quilt are those cords and ties which 'suspend' the insulation under your hammock and keep it snug under you.

A quick note:  Even the most expensive, best filled, loftiest under quilt made won't keep you warm if it's not suspended properly under you.  It needs to be snug and right up against your body.

The Primary Suspension is the two cords running along the length [the longest part] of the hammock.  The primary suspension is pictured above as the top cord.  This is the cord that attaches your under quilt to the head end and foot end of your hammock.  Think of it as the under quilt is a hammock for your hammock.  You won't tie the primary suspension to the trees like you do with your hammock.  Instead, it attaches just above the gathered end of your head end and foot end.  The primary suspension keeps the under quilt from falling to the ground.

Most under quilt manufacturers attach the primary suspension to the quilt in a channel. [See Hammock Gear's photo above].  Putting the primary suspension in a channel allows you to slide the under quilt up toward your head end or down toward your foot end to keep it positioned where you want the warmth.

The Secondary Suspension [pictured under the primary suspension] stretches your under quilt from your head end to your foot end.  It elongates the under quilt to keep it snug underneath you and also to give you the most coverage.

Shock Cord - I think this is one of the neatest terms in the Under Quilt [and Tarp] industry.  Shock cord [also called bungee cord] is a super cool way to name elastic cord.  Shock cord is stretchable yet strong and it's elastic value is relatively high.  There aren't any shock cord 'values' or 'weights' as there are in describing down, for instance but the cords do come in different thicknesses - 1/8", 3/16", etc. to give you some idea of their strength.

Shock cord is a great product that keeps tension on hammock equipment like under quilts and tarps without using static or non-moveable lines.  Having under quilt suspensions made with shock cord keeps them very forgiving and easily adjustable from one hammock to another.  And having shock cords set up on tarp tie out lines makes for less severe tripping hazards and more taut tarps.

The Main Players in the Down Under Quilt Business:

Loco Libre Gear:  George Carr manufactures all types of Hammock related gear out of Lindenwold, NJ.  All is 100% US Made which is a big winner with me.  I don't own any of his gear yet but it won't be long.

Loco Libre has two main styles of under quilts - The Habanero and the Carolina Reaper.  You can order them with either Duck Down or Goose Down and he's got just a ton of options on colors, fill, stitching and more.  One big thing I see that seems to set him apart is that he sews the under quilt baffles in the direction of how his customers lay in their hammock.  And Loco Libre is also the only manufacturer that I've seen offer a "Chevron" shaped baffle which, according to Loco Libre, keeps the down positioned the best.

Hammock Gear: Adam and Jenny Hurst and team are another fine cottage vendor of hammock 'gear' especial.  Based in Reynoldsburg, OH they also manufacture their product line right here in the USA.

Hammock Gear also has two types of under quilts; the full length Incubator and the 3/4 length Phoenix.  Each of these quilts is customizable and boasts one of the widest variety of color options for inside and out.  If you're looking for colors with a bit more pizzazz such as orange, blue, purple or yellow, here's your place to shop.   But they also offer all the other popular woodland color options for those looking to keep things stealthy.

All of their down filled products come with numbered temperature ratings - 0F, 20F, and 40F but as I mentioned above, those figures can be a bit subjective so keep that in mind.  With all of their under quilts equipped with 850 fill Goose Down they remain super lofty and ultra light weight no matter the choice.

I personally own and use their full length under quilt - the Incubator 20F.  The quality is top notch and I've kept warm when using it.

Jacks 'R' Better: Jack & Jack are both prior service US Army Officers with over 50 years of duty between them.  Founded in 2004, Jacks 'R' Better has been churning out one great product after the next. In addition to their [3] most popular under quilts they also manufacturer a bridge hammock and numerous tarps.  Jack and Jack both have extensive product knowledge and you can tell that their knowledge and experience in the outdoors shines through the product line.

All of their under quilts use 800 fill power goose down and they also offer as an add option, a treatment called Activ-Dri which keeps the down drier [it is the most effective when the driest] without sacrificing loft.  And as one would expect from these experts, they've got some very interesting data on the added performance benefits that the Activ-Dri offers.

One very important note about Jacks 'R' Better is that they, unlike most other under quilt manufacturers, keep an inventory of their under quilts at the ready giving them the distinct advantage over their competitors when a customer is in need of an under quilt quickly.  Lead times from other vendors can creep into the 8-9 week range so plan ahead.

Warbonnet Outdoors:  Warbonnet Outdoors manufacturers three under quilts - the Yeti, the Lynx [for Bridge Style Hammocks] and their newest add to the lineup, a product they call the Wooki.  As many know, Warbonnet Outdoors is also known for manufacturing one of the best gathered end hammocks on the market - the Blackbird [and the Blackbird XLC].

All of the Warbonnet under quilts are filled with 800 fill Activ-Dri Goose down and are made to order.  Warbonnet offers a limited color choice [brown, olive green or grey] and generally categorizes their under quilt temperature ratings as "3-Season" or "Winter".

In addition to their ever-popular hammock, Warbonnet also offers a respectable line up of tarps and hammock accessories.

So, if you are looking to extend your hammock season by 4 weeks or more, the under quilt is really the most effective way to keep warm and comfortable as the temperatures drop below 60F.  There are, of course other ways to keep warm but the under quilt is one of the most effective.

To set the record straight there are two main types of hammockers - backpackers and campers:

Backpackers, like the name, enjoy packing up a few choice belongings, carrying them on their back then hiking to their destination.  That hike could be two miles or ten miles.  If you've got all day to devote to an adventure, backpacking is a great time and is often rewarded with peace, solitude and whatever victuals you've opted to bring along to enjoy at the end of the day.

Backpackers opt to keep their packs light so the light weight down under quilts are one of the lightest, warmest options out there.  Synthetics also provide warmth but at a higher weight value.  And the compressive quality of goose or duck down wins over most synthetic materials as many of the under quilts I mentioned above can easily compress into a stuff sack just marginally bigger than a football.

[Note: Storing down in a compressed state will degrade the insulation value so be sure to keep your under quilt out of its stuff sack when it's not on the trail with you.]

Hammock campers, on the other hand, often spend far less time reaching their destination and often opt to drive right up to their camping site.  The reward for them is not only the hammock experience and all the pleasures of the campaign experience, but also the fact that they are nearly unlimited with what luxuries and comforts of home they can 'tote' along.  With the campsite so close to the car, hammock campers can bring whatever their car can carry.