Saturday, June 25, 2016

Alcohol Stove Cookoff

I'm having a great time building and experimenting with home made alcohol stoves and today I ran an experiment with two very easy to make and low cost models.

The stove in the front of the photo is made from one cat food style can [Fancy Feast], one Tomato Paste Can [Contadina] and a strip of carbon felt, otherwise know as soldering blanket.

The stove to the rear is another version of the cat food stove but made much more simply.  I refer to it as the 'original'.

I started with the original version because it was so easy to make and so low cost.  I've been cooped up the last few weeks unable to get out on the trail so experimenting with home made alcohol stoves has been really fun.

Although both stove we are relatively easy to make, the Tomato Paste Can and carbon felt version took me about 10 more minutes to make [not a big deal] and I had to invest about $17 on an 8-1/2" x 11" piece of carbon felt.  This model was a serious money upgrade since the original style cat food can stove only set me back a whopping $0.57.

So, was the upgrade worth it?  I put both of these home made alcohol stoves up against one another in a water boil off to see which one would come out on top.  The results certainly surprised me.  Have a look at my video to see what I found out.


I wanted to get a little more scientific than just putting the pot on and setting a timer so I invested in a Chef Alarm Temperature Monitor [$50 from Thermoworks].  It's got a remote temperature sensor and an alarm function which chimes when the probe reaches the desired temp which in this case was 212 F.

For purposes of the experiment, I used the same volume of water, the same cookpot and left the lid off in both cases.  Note: I'm sure the water would have come to a boil faster if the lid were left on but for the purposes of the experiment it wasn't super critical.

To sum up my findings, see the chart below:


This certainly brought back memories from High School Chemistry Lab even if it wasn't quite as controlled.

As you can see, the Carbon Felt stove technically wins although if you watch the video, you'll see that the Original Fancy Feast Stove looks to boil around the 6:50 mark.  If I had been in the field without a temp probe then I would have called them both nearly dead even.

But with all that said, I took away a few really good pieces of data.

  • For starters, both stoves look to put out on average of 23 BTUs per minute. [BTU equals the amount of energy to raise 1 pound of water = 2 cups 1 degree F].  There was a little fluctuation on that [minimum 17, max 31]
  • The Carbon Felt / Tomato Paste modification although a little more costly and a bit more difficult to build, does make a better stove in my opinion.  The Tomato Paste Can Pot Shelf leaves a ring of free area where the alcohol can burn without fear of snuffing the flame out.  With the Original Cat Food Stove you've got to be a little more patient to let the stove bloom first before putting your water on it.
For me, the carbon felt, tomato paste modification was a big success and that one will be my stove of choice moving forward.  Of course, I'll still tinker with some further modifications to see if I can coax a few more BTUs out of the stove.

If you want to see where my experimentations go, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel and give me a thumbs up [I'm on Facebook too].  I'll be running more experiments like this one with different stove models, different fuel types and whatever else I can think of.  And I'll be throwing in some reviews of all the gear I am currently using too.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"No-Brainer" Backpacking Equipment Under $5

There is little doubt that backpacking can get expensive given the chance.  Outfit yourself with a brand new backpack, a sleeping bag, a tent system or hammock and you could be looking at lightening your wallet by about $300-$400+ easy.  Granted, there are finds out there as far as equipment is concerned.  Around most any holiday or change of season, outfitters like REI.com, Sportsman's Warehouse, L. L. Bean, Mossejaw and more will offer some rather enticing sales.  I've certainly bitten on a few of them.  And to a point Craigslist can be an avenue to more cost effective outfitting but there are some items I probably wouldn't buy second hand.

There aren't too many shortcuts to a good backpack or sleeping system.  Those you've got to bite the bullet on and if you skimp a little too much then you might have to replace or upgrade later.  Shelter however, can be one equipment item that you can improvise on.  A tarp can be an alternative if the weather is right and a Lean To makes for good protection against the elements in most cases.

But, you'll need other essentials to make the most of your backpacking experience and before you shell out all that hard earned cash, have a look at some of my cost savings ideas on backpacking equipment.  There are some very, reasonable alternatives to the expensive equipment out there that won't make you feel like you're giving up on a lot of frills.  And the money you'll save here can go toward that upgraded sleeping bag, backpack or tent that may have been just out of reach before.

Water Bottles - Here's one of the simplest ways to save a few bucks without a ton of sacrifice and there are some definite benefits by 'downgrading' your water bottle selection.

The "Nalgene" is a super popular brand of water bottle that is BPA Free and very robust.  The closure cap usually comes permanently attached to the bottle so there's no way to lose it and the cap attachment also serves as a great way to carabiner the water bottle to a backpack.  That's a good bonus.  Retail Price $8.99 plus shipping.

One other very distinct advantage of the Nalgene is that it's thicker construction allows you to use it as a warming bottle for those really cold nights.  If you're planning on 4 season camping then owning a Nalgene comes in handy.  If you pour nearly boiling water into your Nalgene, shove it in a thick wool sock, and sleep with it between your thighs, the heat given off will keep you incredibly warm during the night.

With these perks on the Nalgene, you might be persuaded to drop $8-$10 per and that would necessarily be a bad thing, but if sleeping outside in cold weather isn't on your list of to-do's then you could save the $15-$20 dollars and put them toward one of the big three.

Instead of the Nalgene, consider bringing along a pair or more of the everyday store bought water bottles [$1 or less].  Some brands are super thin so beware of those but Smart Water, for instance makes a fairly resilient bottle which means you can reuse it again and again.

Another reason to bring along that common water bottle is the threaded connection it has fits the Sawyer water filtration system perfectly.  If you're out on the trail for more than a day then bringing along enough potable water just isn't practical and if there isn't a potable water source on the trail then you've got to invest in a water filtration system.

The Sawyer mini [pictured right] is priced under $20 and will purify up to 100,000 gallons of water.  That's an absolute bargain for that investment.  And what tips the scale for the common household water bottle over the Nalgene is that the Sawyer filter fits on that common bottle, not the Nalgene.  Sawyer does offer a small collapsible bag free of charge with the Sawyer mini filter kit but I've found it way too small and difficult to fill.  Instead, I bring along 1-2 Smart Water type bottles to use to fill up from the creek, pond or stream then screw on the Sawyer filter and squeeze the purified water into my Nalgene.

Camp Stove - #2 on the list of ways to save is in your camp stove.  One of the more common camp stoves on the market is the MSR Pocket Rocket style stove [pictured left]  I've owned one since last year and love it.  Retail price $39.99 plus shipping.  Not completely outrageous, but there are ways to save a bunch here.

Of course, the most cost effective way to cook would be to build a campfire.  That's certainly one way to go and not a bad choice.  Before we dive into all the ways to save money, let's consider for just a moment, everything that that $40 investment in the MSR gets you.

First, in the way of camp stoves, it's a big winner terms of weight.  At 3 ounces, you won't even notice it in your pack.  And it packs down into the size of a small tomato paste can.  What's more, it can boil two cups of water in under 4 minutes.  The engineers did their homework on this baby.  It lights up very easily, requires only a marginal wind screen [the more protection it has, the quicker it boils water] and the fuel adjustment knob allows the chef in you a little finesse when cooking up that camp meal.

So, $40 might not be a huge investment for all those perks, but if you'd rather spend those two $20s on upgrading your sleeping bag to a 3 season or opting for the 2 man tent to give yourself a bit more room, then perhaps consider the home-made alcohol stove as an alternative.

For a marginal investment of about $0.57 you can pick up a can of Fancy Feast Cat Food and turn that empty can into an excellent little camp stove that is a great option to the conventional.  Building one on your own will take you all of 5 minutes and apart from purchasing a burning fuel [heet, denatured alcohol, etc...] you're off and running.

Mini Bic Lighter - There's no shame in carrying a mini bic lighter with you on the trail.  If you're into starting fire with other means, that's perfectly ok, but the insurance that a mini lighter gives is well worth it.  And for under $1, it's something that should be a staple in every backpacker's front pocket.

Dryer Lint - not only is dryer lint free, it's also invaluable in starting camp fires.  If you've been out on the trail longer than expected and daylight is waning, dryer lint can get your fire going in no time. It's weight is nearly negligible and even with just a pocketful you'll easily start 2-3 campfires.

Sleeping Pad - Having a rough night sleeping out on the trail just isn't an option for those that plan on staying out for a few days.  If you're going to re-fuel and re-charge for another 10 miler to the next lean to, your night has to be restful and your sleep system has to deliver without tipping the scales too heavy.

Thermarest was one of the first self-inflating backpacking mattresses created in the early 1970's by two former Boeing engineers [ref Wikipedia] and they've got no less than a dozen models currently on the market.  Although they are stellar, the don't come cheap. Retail $19.95 - $229.95

One definite option to consider is the foam Yoga style mat.  For some it may not offer enough padding for a good night's rest but for others it may do the job just fine.  And if you're using a hammock then you may not even need anything under you.  Note that a foam mattress will provide some insulation against the cold and will extend your hammock camping season.

Pocket Hand Sanitizer - stores like 5 Below and the Dollar Store offer some surprisingly inexpensive backpacker essential items like travelers toothbrushes and toothpaste which I find are necessities for me.  And pick up a bottle or two of pocket hand sanitizer while you're there.  It's great for disinfecting bug bites and scrapes and if getting a fire started is difficult due to damp wood, squeeze out a few handfuls of hand sanitizer on your kindling.  It ignites easily and burns hot.

Handkerchief / Bandana - Another no-brainer to add to your list of backpacking essentials is a bandana or two.  I like wearing mine around my neck.  Soak it in water to keep you cool.  Spray it with Off! to keep the bugs at bay and use it as a washcloth or hand towel for cleaning up.

So there you have it.  These $5 and under backpacking essentials will certainly add to the comfort and safety of your next backpacking trip and won't break the bank.

I'm putting together an alcohol stove series on my YouTube channel so if you're interested in learning more about them or want to build one for yourself be sure to check it out and subscribe.

See you on the trail!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Gear Build: Alcohol Stoves

The MSR Pocket Rocket vs. The Alcohol Stove
The camp stove is one of those critical pieces of equipment on every backpacker or trail hiker's list and the alcohol burning stove does a nice job of getting your meals prepared or coffee made in the morning.  It may not have all the bells and whistles of a stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket, but it certainly gets the job done.

One really fun thing to do, especially when you're itching to get out on the trail but can't, is to build your own alcohol stove.  You certainly can buy a pre-engineered, precision manufactured alcohol stove that will last for years and years, but for the do-it-yourselfer, making your own alcohol stove is fun, rewarding and far less expensive than buying.

Common Household Cans for the Alcohol Stove
There are no shortage of everyday household items that you can use to build a stove of your own.  I've seen videos and blogs on no less than a dozen home built alcohol stoves made from mini beverage cans like Ginger Ale, Red Bull, and Venom to Fancy Feast Cat Food cans and the like.

Odds are if it's made out of metal and held food or fluids at one point, then you can build your own alcohol stove out of it.

Some alcohol stove builds take more skill, tools and precision than others.  The good news is that for the most part, even the simplest design can still bring very useable results.  But if you like getting into the engineering about vaporizing fuel and orifice size for fuel jets then by all means have fun with it and go for something more complicated.

Before you dig in too deep though, understand that most alcohol based stoves are going to boil 2 cups of water in anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes and use roughly 1 to 1.5 ounces of alcohol.  You can science it up and reduce that wait time and/or fuel consumption but if you're in no horrible rush to boil your water for a meal or for that coffee, then even the simplest alcohol stove build will get your water ready in about 6 minutes.

My advice to the first time stove builder is to start with the most basic and simple model and practice that build a few times. Once you've mastered your first stove, feel free to go ahead and up the difficulty and experiment with it.  That is certainly part of the fun.

The Fancy Feast Stove
If you're building on a budget, the simplest and most inexpensive of all the builds I've seen is the Fancy Feast Alcohol Stove.  Armed with a can of Cat Food, a Drill or Hole Punch and a Black Felt Tip Marker you can make an Alcohol Stove for well under $1 [minus the fuel].  And don't let the simplicity and low cost of this stove make you think you are settling for an inferior stove.  On the contrary, not only is this stove the simplest, it also boils 2 cups of water in under 6 minutes.  That's assuming you keep it well wind protected and keep a tight fitting lid on your water pot.  And that's not that far off from many of the other more expensive, more time consuming and more difficult stove builds.

Here's a link to see one of the many How-To Videos on Building a Fancy Feast Alcohol Stove.

I too started with a Fancy Feast Alcohol Stove and have had it out with me on many a hike.  Although I am completely content with my current stove, it's always fun to try out new ideas and builds.    That's why I'm going to be adding a new component to my stove - carbon felt and an interior tomato paste can.  I'm not so much looking for an improvement over my stove as much as I am just interested in trying something new.

And I'll be making two of the fancy feast - carbon felt - tomato paste can hybrid stoves.  One is for me and the other one I'll send off free of charge to anyone who chimes in below with a comment on what type of stove you use.  After a week or so, I'll pick a winner at random and get in touch so I can send you a free stove.



Thanks for reading!  See you on the trail.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Fire Starting Skills and Tips for the Trail Hiker

Out in the field, a fire can be the difference between comfort and distress.  Fire can provide so many things - light, heat, means to cook, security, signal [if you're lost] and a fire can also keep the mind occupied during survival situations.  I don't take to the trail without at least two failsafe means to start a fire and I always light a fire at my campsite.  It's a huge part of the enjoyment of the trail for me and the benefits the campfire brings are many.

So, having the means and the skills necessary to create a fire no matter the weather or time of day is important to any trail hiker.

The number one key to success in building a fire is preparation.  By and large, the more time spent in proper preparation, the higher your likelihood of success in building and maintaining a fire.

Every fire needs three basic 'elements' in which to ignite and thrive - oxygen, tinder and fuel.  The lack of any of these results in sub par success or even failure.

Oxygen - Note that you'll never want to build a fire in a completely enclosed area.  Fire consumes oxygen as do you.  Open flames in tents and other enclosed areas will rob your body of oxygen and can be extremely dangerous.  Building fire out in the open keeps it the most manageable, the most safe to you, the most visible [in the event you are trying to signal] and keeps that primary element, oxygen, in the most abundant supply.

The number one key to success in building a fire is preparation. 

Tinder - As I mentioned, preparation is critical to success so you'll want to spend a fair amount of time gathering and getting your fire site ready.  Tinder is that super fine wood about the thickness of pencil lead.  Grass or leaf material works too but all of it needs to be completely dry.  Gathering large amounts of tinder isn't as important as gathering quality tinder.  The drier and smaller your tinder, the more chance of success you'll have in starting a fire quickly.

Gathering wood and grasses that are not in contact with the ground ensures that they'll be the driest.  If it has been raining,  dig into brush and leaf piles to find the dry tinder underneath.

Fuel - Tinder ignites quickly, burns hot and extinguishes in a very short time frame.  Although gathering that tinder is important, also mission critical is gathering a large amount of fuel wood of pencil diameter and larger to feed that fire once you've got it going.  Once your tinder is ignited it's important to feed your fire with wood about the diameter of a pencil [pictured on top of the fire above].  Building a strong fire that thrives continually requires you to feed it with wood of increasing thicknesses.  Feed it too fast with fuel that's too large and you run the risk of smothering the fire or waiting much longer than necessary for that fire you need.  Feed in stages for that well established, thriving fire.

That campfire can provide some of our most basic survival needs - light, heat and security.  Let's examine one more crucial aspect of the campfire before moving on to a few failsafe methods I use to build my campfire when I'm out on the trail.

Site Selection - One of the most important aspects of fire building that can be over looked is site selection.  Our top priority is always to select a site that keeps us and the environment safe.  Choosing a site with no overhead cover is critical to your safety as well as the safety of the surrounding environment.  Even though that large pine tree may provide some great overhead cover, building a campfire, no matter the size, under the overhead boughs can be life threatening.

Reflecting Fire - Although the campfire is great for providing light and ambiance during those leisurely outings, there could be times you need that fire for warmth, especially in survival situations. Most often we think of campfires as being completely exposed and open and this does provide the most visibility and safety, however it is not the best type of campfire for warmth, especially when fuel is scarce.  Instead of building the fire in the middle of an exposed, open area, instead build a horseshoe shaped pit with three walls built of either wood or preferably stone.  The horseshoe shaped wall will reflect the heat back toward the open side giving you maximum warmth.

Building the Fire Pit - Clearing a never before used site is important for the safety and management of the fire.  If you don't clear your site, the firs can quickly spread to loose tinder on the ground and your fire can spread faster than you can extinguish it.  To ensure your safety and that of the surrounding environment, select a site of at least 20 feet in diameter with no overhead trees or structures and clear the ground of loose tinder and debris in that circle.  To help in visualizing that area, think of a clock with your fire at the middle.  The distance from the center of that fire to the numbers on that close should be equal to the distance from the tips of your fingers to your toes when your hands are placed overhead.

Rock Selection - Rocks make an excellent barrier or fire ring and are normally found in abundance out on the trail.  Never select rocks however, that are in or near stream beds or other water sources as they contain a great deal moisture that will explode when heated rapidly next to your fire.  Instead, search for rocks on high ground when lining your fire pit.

Failsafe Measures for Building Your Fire - Once you've selected and cleared your site, gathered your tinder, kindling and fuel, building the fire comes next.  If you've brought along man made fire starters like matches or a lighter then you should have little trouble providing you've done your homework with gathering the proper tinder.

Its always fun though, to learn a few more techniques that aren't a huge time investment but are also easy to carry along with you [lightweight and cheap] and that can start a fire quickly and easily.

Dryer Lint - Common household dryer lint os one of the most combustible yet safe, fuel sources I've used.  It's normally in great abundance, doesn't cost a dime and it only takes half a handful to start a fire.

Cotton Balls - If dryer lint isn't available, cotton balls make an excellent substitution.  They too are extremely affordable and ignite very quickly and safely.  And even 1-2 of them can ignite a fire that can be the difference between comfort,warmth and safety and the latter.  If I'm not carrying a handful of dryer lint with me then I've got a dozen cotton balls in my pack.  Both work great.

Flint and Steel - A small bic lighter will ignite most tinder if it's small enough and it certainly will ignite dryer lint or cotton balls.  Another option that is a fun tool to own is flint and steel.  The spark created by striking steel on flint is in excess of 5,000 degrees F and although I've had difficulty igniting tinder directly, dryer lint and cotton balls never fail to light right up.  I used the word "striking" but it's really rather dragging the steel across the flint that creates a more effective spark.  That small fragment of flint ignites as it is scraped off the flint stick and if it lands in the cotton or lint it ignites every time.

Hand Sanitizer - Another excellent fire starter that is lightweight and inexpensive is Hand Sanitizer.  I've seen a few squirts from one of those small sample bottles make easy work of lighting a fire even on kindling.  It burns fast and hot and ignited with flint and steel or a lighter.  It's a great alternative and a bottle or two should be in everyone's pack.

The next time you're out on the trail, try some experimenting.  Build a fire with a method you haven't tried before and have fun with it.  If it's just not going well, revert back to what you know works and try it next time.  The campfire is one of the most enjoyable parts of the trail experience for many trail hikers and building your knowledge and experience with several type of fire making skills is smart.

See you on the trail!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Backpacking Tips for Beginners

First off, kudos for doing a little research on backpacking tips before venturing out on the trail for the first time.  The better prepared you are, if even with knowledge alone, the better each experience will be.

Sometimes we learn the best through our failures like I did the first night out in my Hennessey Hammock in March.  It was a tough night with temps dropping into the 30s and I didn't get much sleep, but that experience taught me some great lessons that I won't soon forget.

No matter your reason for wanting to unplug a little, backpacking is a completely fantastic way to unwind.  For me, escaping if even for a few hours recharges my batteries like nothing else.  A warm campfire, a hot meal and a quiet evening is the perfect getaway.

One of my all time favorite views!
There's a lot to be said for being spontaneous.  Making last minute plans to backpack is certainly exciting, but having a little know how first before heading out on the trail will go a long way in making sure you're safe, you're comfortable and that you will want to repeat that adventure.  Having at least some of the proper knowledge and equipment will make for a safe and fun time out away from it all.

Trail Selection - Scouting out your destination on-line and via a trail map is just plain smart.  Checking out the trail beforehand will guide you in equipment selection and can give you some much needed confidence before you step one foot out your door.  "Never go where you haven't gone before" were some great words of wisdom I learned from an old Army instructor I had years ago.  The point of those wise words has stuck with me all these years and they've certainly benefitted me.  So, scout out the area you're interested in before jumping full steam ahead.

Things to Look For in Trail Selection:
  • Contour - Most maps not only give you a two dimensional look at the trail, ie how far you will be traveling, but the good ones also show contours or elevation changes.  It's a good idea to make sure the map you are referring to shows the contour of the area so that you can see how much up and down there will be on your journey.  Even a short hike that has major elevation changes can be taxing on the first time trekker.  Your best bet is to start out with a trail that is relatively flat unless you're no stranger to the gym then by all means go for it a little.
  • Water - I've found that about 3 Liters a day keeps me hydrated well enough.  You can opt to carry it all with you right from the start or when scouting out your trail, look for signs of water. If there are streams or other water sources on the trail, bring along a water purification system if you would rather keep your pack a little lighter.  Water weighs just over 8 pounds a gallon and 3 Liters equates to around 6 pounds.  That can add up quick once you've got all your other gear on your back.  In any event, don't leave for the trail with zero water.  Always bring some along.  The water signs on the trail map might be wrong or harder to find than you thought and you don't want to dehydrate.
  • Shelter - New York State has over 300 Lean To Shelters on the various trail systems.  That's an amazing benefit I'm happy to be able to take part in.  A well built Lean To is an excellent source of protection from the weather that still gives me a feeling of sleeping outside.  And one of the best parts is that I can opt to leave my tent at home if I know there's a Lean To on the trail.  Note: There are times when Lean To's can be occupied by one or more backpackers when you arrive.  If you're uncomfortable sleeping next to a stranger then be sure to pack your tent.
  • Campgrounds - Some trails require that you camp only at designated campgrounds.  So, be sure to scout those out when choosing your trail.  Most often they are very well marked on the trail so finding them shouldn't be too much trouble.
  • Distance - Here's the biggie.  Use a little restraint when it comes to planning the distance you want to cover.  It's better to arrive at your campsite an hour early and feeling great than one to two hours late and completely bushed.  Most adults can cover about a mile in 20 minutes on flat terrain.  Lots of up/down shown on that contour map can double that time.  I like to arrive at camp about two to three hours before dusk/dark.  That give me plenty of time to unpack, set up camp, get a fire going and eat.  Then I can enjoy the evening in front of the fire relaxing.
  • Parking - Most trail heads have designated parking areas that are well off the main road.  When I park, I do my best to get my car out of sight and especially off the main drag.  The last thing anyone wants is to walk back to a vandalized or missing car the next morning.
What to Bring on Your Backpacking Trip:
  • How Long - Your first few outings should be one nighters that are relatively short distance.  I've got a family at home so I don't like being gone for long.  One night is perfect.  And the less time you are out on the trail, the less you'll need to bring.
  • Change of Clothes - The only change of clothes I bring with me is a change of socks and maybe a t-shirt.  I'm not overly creeped out by sleeping in my street clothes nor wearing them the next day.   And clothes take up room in your pack and weigh a ton.  Leave the extra clothes at home and save your back.
  • Equipment - Generally speaking, the more you bring, the more comfortable you'll be and the heavier your pack will be too.  There are a few conveniences I like to bring along on my trips out but I keep in mind that 1) I won't be gone long and 2) I'm backpacking so that I can unplug a bit and I don't need all the modern conveniences.  There's no need to take everything I 'want'.  In fact, it can be fun for me to leave some of that stuff behind to see how I'll deal being without it.
Never Use Any Piece of Equipment For the First Time on the Trail:

If you read through my list of essential backpacking equipment, you might notice a few pieces you are lacking to make the most out of your next backpacking experience.  Buying equipment and experimenting is fun so indulge a bit.  I like to.  But, it's always been a good practice of mine to break all that stuff out before I hit the trail just to make sure it's all in working order, especially when it's brand new or if it's super 'mission critical' gear like a camping stove.

A Camp Stove is a seriously mission critical piece of gear and you don't need to spend a ton of money to have a great stove.  If a stove is on your list of equipment to buy, have a look at my quick words of wisdom on backpacking stoves.

Lay Out All Your Equipment and Have a List:

Before I pack for the trail I lay everything out on the floor or up on a table.  That way I can keep visual inventory of everything before I start packing it away in my backpack.  If I start packing and get distracted by a phone call or one of my kiddos, then I end up pulling everything out again and starting all over.  I hate leaving stuff at home, especially when it's something I had on my list but somehow didn't make it to my pack.

And having a list is a good thing.  A list helps me stay organized and it's easy to cross stuff out or add based on what I need.  After a few trips you'll modify what you see as your essentials and add stuff that you might not have thought of initially.  Once you land at your campsite, great ideas will pop into your head like "Wow, what if I had that here right now?"  I had a novel idea to buy a string of LED lights to hang up in one of my favorite Lean To spots.  The extra lighting is super lightweight, rand me under $20 and really brightens up the inside of the Lean To.  Campfire light is great when you're close, but take a few steps away and you're in the dark.

Lists = good.  And keeping a notepad with you to jot down ideas for your next trip out on the trail is smart.

Learn From Your Mistakes:

That's what life's about, right?  Not every time out on the trail is going to be a complete success.  Some stuff goes great and other parts not so much.  I took a one-night solo trip back in March that was only marginally successful, but I survived through it and learned some great lessons.

I resolved not to give in but to make the most of my trip.  Lots of parts went great like my campfire and the dinner and breakfast I had made.  The campfire, in fact, kept me warm when I couldn't sleep due to the cold.  Instead of shivering in my sleeping bag, I got out, stoked the fire to a warm blaze and  warmed up.  And after was all said and done, I wrote down every part of my trip and the experiences so that I remembered the good and learned from the bad.

The hammock is one of the most comfortable 'rides' you'll ever experience out on the trail and Hennessey makes one of the best.  I was under trained and unskilled on how to stay warm in a hammock in near 30F weather.  It can be done with the proper equipment [underquilts, reflectix pads] but I was simply unprepared.  I expected my equipment to outperform it's limits.  All good...I'm in the know now.

Here's more about my first night out in the Hennessey Hammock.

The point is that not all trips will go as planned.  You'll have to prepare as best you can for some contingencies but you won't always have the perfect answer to whatever comes up.  Instead, venture out knowing that not everything will go as planned and have fun through all of it!

Write, Read and Share:

Have some experiences out on the trail like me?  Follow my blog and I'll follow yours.  One of my favorite pastimes when I can't be on the trail is reading about other trail hiker's experiences.  I'm all about learning and making the most of every chance I get to ramble out on the trail.  So, give me a thumbs up, like my Facebook page, Youtube account and point me to yours if you have one.  Let's have fun and get out there!

Until next time....the Instant Backpacker.