Saturday, July 16, 2016

Gear Review: Sawyer Mini Water Filter

Let me start off by saying that Sawyer engineers have really got their act together.  Right out of the box, the entire concept of Mini, Portable, Affordable, Long-Lasting Water Filtration is a winner.  For $20 you get what very well be the last water filter you'll ever need.

Before you run out to grab your first or next water filtration system, have a read...

Direct use water filters like the Life Straw are great products, but here's why I'd choose the Sawyer Mini over them.  If you're looking to filter water not only for drinking but for cooking as well, then products like the Life Straw aren't your best choice.  The Life Straw works exactly like a straw.  You dip one end into the lake, stream or pond and suck clean water through the other end.  You're the 'engine' to pull clean water through.  If you're looking to fill a cook pot with clean water for cooking, well, the Life Straw won't get that done.

With a squeeze type filter like the Sawyer, you gather non-filtered water in Sawyer's supplied collapsible bag or even a standard water bottle then attach it directly to the Sawyer Mini.  The 'dirty' end of the filter has a fairly universal female screw connection that fits nearly every plastic water and soda bottle out there.  That's a little more than brilliant.

Water is super mission critical to any outdoor adventure and Sawyer ensures our safety with their line of water filters.  This Mini Water filter is an absolute no brainer for anyone to own.  Even if you are not one to test your mettle against the outdoors, having a standby water filter is never a bad idea.

For me, this filter was one of the smartest purchases I've made and without a doubt, I'll have it with me on each and every trip out on the trail.  It's so small and lightweight that I never notice I'm carrying it but it sure comes in handy.  And here's the other bonus:  When I'm hiking out for an overnight to an area I know has an abundant water supply, I can pack a little less water on the way in, drink it on the trail, then re-fill my Nalgenes at the campsite's water source.  That's a great trade off for that small $20 investment.

Gear Specs & Perks
  • Ultra Light - 2 ounces
  • Compact - Fits in the palm of your hand
  • Filtration - 0.1 Micron
  • Long Lasting - filters up to 100,000 gallons of water
  • Cost - Approx $20
  • No Chemicals
  • Rechargeable
  • Attaches to most water/soda bottles
How It Works:  Using technology similar to blood dialysis, the filter media inside the small housing traps all particles greater than 0.1 Microns.  That's one millionth of a meter.  Water molecules, being much smaller than .01 microns, pass easily through the media while other unwanted and potentially harmful matter is trapped behind.

The Sawyer Filter comes with an easy to use, lightweight backwash kit that you'll use when the filter becomes clogged or passes water difficultly.  Note that if your water source is quite cloudy or muddy, then the filter won't pass water through as efficiently and will need backwashing more frequently.

It's always the best idea to use a water source that's clear and moving like a stream or creek, but the Sawyer Mini will filter pond water too.  If you have run into a water source that is extremely turbid and you have time, let your gathered water settle for a few minutes then transfer the water to a second bottle leaving as much sediment behind as you can.  Alternatively, use a handkerchief or a piece of clothing to run the pond water through into your collection bottle.  That will trap the major sediment as well.

Note: The Sawyer Mini and most related style products are for water filtration and not desalinization.  That means although they are perfect for filtering contaminants out of fresh water sources, they will not make ocean water safe for drinking.  For that you'll need a desalinator.

What's in your backpack for water filtration?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Fancy Feast Alcohol Stove Upgrade

The Fancy Feast Alcohol Stove has got to be one of the easiest and low-cost alcohol stove builds out there.  Coming in at a whopping $0.57 out of pocket and taking under 3 minutes to build, it's a stove that every backpacker and camping enthusiast should try.

If you haven't built one yet, I highly recommend that you do for the following reasons:
  1. Low Cost - At under a dollar, the cat food can stove won't break the bank.  Heck, you'd probably spend more on a pack of gum.
  2. Easy to Build - Without going into a long dissertation, there are a ton of alcohol stove builds out there that you need specialized tools and skills to build but not this stove.  It's super simple to build and is very forgiving in terms of the builder's accuracy.
  3. Strength and Stability - The diameter of the can and it's low-to-the-ground profile make it super sturdy and able to hold many times its own weight.  Some manufactured stoves can stand six inches or more off the ground after you've spun them on the fuel canister.  This little gem just won't tip over.
  4. Lightweight - This stove is so light, you won't even know it's in your pack. That means you can carry other stuff like mini speakers, camp lighting or other stuff that will make your backpacking experience even better.
  5. Quiet - Most of us backpack for the little bit of tranquility and peace and quiet we get out on the trail like nowhere else.  The alcohol stove is whisper quiet which means you'll be able to hear that babbling brook, those birds chirping or woodpecker pecking.
Hopefully, I've got you interested in building one for all the reasons above and if nothing else, it's fun.  The stove does have its limitations, but for the low cost and minimal time investment, I'd still recommend that everyone build a few of these stoves if nothing else than for the fun of it.   

Before you begin building, there one small drawback of the standard Fancy Feast Alcohol stove that I've found.

As great as the stove is and as easy as it is to build, I found that one drawback is how finicky it can be to keep the stove lit when you initially put your cook pot on it.

I give my stove about 30 seconds to 'warm up' after I light it.  That added time gives the alcohol a chance to heat up which makes it vaporize more easily and in turn forces the flame to move through the holes in the stove easier.  Even still, I've found that I've got to very slowly set my pot on it to make sure I don't snuff the flame out.  It takes a little timing and technique but after a few attempts, I've got the hang of it.
There is a popular stove modification that I found while poking around on YouTube that solves this issue completely and even makes the stove a bit more efficient.

Tools You Need:
1 - Fancy Feast Cat Food Can
1 - Tomato Paste Can
1 - Length of Carbon Felt 1" wide by approx 7" long
Kitchen Shears or Hacksaw
Paper Hole Punch or Drill

Building the Modified Fancy Feast Cat Food Stove
  1. Instead of drilling or punching holes in the Fancy Feast can, you'll want to leave it just as it is.  Sure, take the top off and wash it out, but other than that, you're done with that part of the stove.
  2. Next, you'll want to grab a tomato paste can and open both ends.  I like using the can openers that don't cut down into the lid but rather score around the edge so you can lift the lid off.  With both lids off, clean the can out completely.
  3. Now, measure the height of your fancy feast can and add 1".  Mine measures 1-7/16" so adding 1" makes it 2-7/16".  Transfer that measurement to the tomato paste can and cut to length.  Heavy duty kitchen shears will do the job as the tin is fairly thin.  And no worries if your measurement is a little off, just make sure your cut leaves the can standing flat.  You'll be resting your pot on this piece so you won't want it lopsided.
  4. Don't worry about leaving a sharp edge where you cut the tomato paste can.  That cut edge will be down inside the fancy feast can so no issues about getting cut.
  5. On that cut edge of the tomato paste can cut 4 identical upside down 'vees'.  Position each one at 12 O'Clock, 3, 6 and 9.  Those four notches will allow the alcohol you pour in the bottom of the can to wick up into the carbon felt.
  6. Finally, just under the top lip of the tomato paste can you'll need to cut a small hole.  I'd suggest a hole no smaller than 3/16" as this hole is necessary for pressure relief.  You'll only need one and it makes no difference where you cut it as long as it's near the top edge.
  7. Before we get started with our carbon felt, a few words on what it is and where to find it:  Carbon felt is otherwise known as soldering blanket and will by far be the most expensive part of the cat food stove modification.  I purchased mine in the plumbing aisle at Home Depot and spent about $15 on it.  Granted, the blanket was about the size of a sheet of paper and will easily make about 10 of these stoves.  It looks like thick black felt [about 1/4" thick] and withstands about 2000 degrees F.  Cool.
  8. Now, cut the carbon felt to a width of 1" and length of approx 7".  You can use those kitchen shears to do that.  Wrap the felt around the bottom of the tomato paste can where the notches are.  You'll find that the 7" length is nearly the perfect length to fit around that bottom circumference.  If it's a little long, trim it off.  If it's a little short, the felt will stretch.  Otherwise, it's not a huge deal if it is a little off.  That won't matter much.
  9. With the felt wrapped around the bottom of the can, fit the tomato paste can into the cat food can.  The layer of felt will make the fit a bit snug.  Take your time and twist the cans to make them slide together more easily.  That snug fit is what you're after.  When the cans bottom out, the felt should be down inside the lip of the cat food can by just an 1/8th of an inch or so.  Perfect.
And that's it, you're done.  Even if that was your first time building an alcohol stove I'd bet it took you under 10 minutes once you had all the parts and pieces together.  That's not a bad time investment.  I've had mine for a few months now and with proper care there should be no reason it doesn't last me for years.

Now for the reason behind our upgrade...  That tomato paste can now acts as an internal pot stand which lifts the cook pot off the stove by about one inch.  And the carbon felt liner acts as the new burning surface for the alcohol giving the flame easy access to all the oxygen it needs to burn freely.  So, there's no more waiting to put your cook pot on the stove once you light it.

So, give this upgrade a try and let me know what you think.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Gear Review: MSR Micro Rocket

Instant Backpacker Gear Review: The MSR Micro Rocket

Date Purchased: 11/4/15

Source: Cabella's 
Price Paid: $40
The MSR Micro Rocket has been a staple in my backpack for all my trail hikes and overnights. MSR engineers have done their homework on this little marvel making it super lightweight and compact while delivering high power to cook your meals on the trail. Be sure to add this gem to your list of 'mission critical' equipment.
I give the MSR Micro Rocket 5 out of 5 stars for its lightweight design, reliability and high output burner.  There are many other stove options out there for far less, but not all of them deliver all the bells and whistles that the MSR Pocket Rocket does.
The pot base is created by unfolding the Micro Rocket's three foldable arms and is stable enough to support 1-2 pounds but I would skeptical putting much more weight than that on it.  The fold out arms are manufactured out of a light gauge metal to keep the overall weight down but they are strong. The base created once the arms are unfolded is just out of the sweet spot for balancing my Stanley Outdoor Adventure Camp Cookset but would fit many other cook pots on the market.
Of note is the fact that stoves like the MSR Micro Rocket require an outside fuel source such as butane, isobutane and propane.  Fuel choices are relatively abundant and are becoming popular for many of the larger stores to carry in stock so finding them locally is very possible.  The fuels offered are slow burning and efficient and come in different mixes to suit cooking in different seasonal temperatures.  Although the fuel sources are not as sustainable as cooking with wood, the MSR Micro Rocket is still a great option for the backpacker looking to cook a quick meal.
If you're one to want to stay in tune with your surroundings, know that the Micro Rocket is quite loud when burning.  The sound can easily overshadow that nearby running brook or wildlife.  Fortunately, the Micro Rocket does such a quick job of boiling water [just over 3 minutes] you won't have to listen to it for long.
  • Reliability
  • Compact, lightweight packaging
  • Speed and power
  • Relatively small base
  • Need fuel source
Setup: The MSR Micro Rocket sets up in under a minute ready to get to the task of cooking your next meal.
Ignition: The Piezo lighter that comes with the purchase is only marginally effective at igniting the stove. Since it is unreliable, I choose to use either my own hand lighter or flint and steel to get the stove running.  It does ignite very easily by my means.
Flame Control: The built-in adjustment lever does a fine job of adjusting the flame through a fairly wide range. And with flame control like this, not only can you conserve fuel when a full burn is not needed, but the flame control also allows the chef-in-you a little more finesse with your trail cooking.
Cooking: In prime conditions, the MSR Micro Rocket can bring 2 cups of water to full boil in just over 3 minutes [assuming start temp of 70°F].  And the flame control stated above allows you to make temperature adjustments easily.  Winner winner, chicken dinner!
Wind: Although the MSR Micro Rocket does not come with a wind screen, building your own out of light gauge metal or several layers of tin foil is easy to do. Wind screening will make your PocketRocket more efficient, but I've found that it's not a necessity to have one.
Lifespan: I've owned my Micro Rocket for nearly 6 months and have had it with me on around 4 excursions.  It shows no signs of wear and I expect a long lifespan from it.
Base/Stability: The fold open pot base is quite secure and opens/closes easily. I did find, however, that the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set Pot does not fit very well on this base. The cook pot bottom diameter is a bit too small for the fold out arms and the pot does notify securely on the arms. Larger posts will do much better on the MSR Micro Rocket.
All in all, I'm a big fan of this MSR product. It has been a very reliable piece of equipment that delivers every time I expect it to.