Backpacking Lights – Extra batteries or backup light?

While packing for a weekend trip, I realized I have been packing extra batteries for my headlamp (or previously flashlight) as a standard item in my “Repair Kit” for a long time.  This approach has a couple of flaws:

  • On a short trip, there is no need for additional batteries unless the ones in the light are already worn down or you expect to do a lot of night time activity.
  • The extra batteries don’t address a failure in the light except for dead batteries

So I decided to alter my gear list, and take just the headlamp with fresh batteries.  At the last minute while at the outdoor store, I saw a clip light for baseball caps.  On a whim I bought one and threw it in my pocket for the weekend.  Turns out, I like this little light – the Amphipod Swift Clip Cap Light – for a short trip.  I am working on a full review for Trailspace, but in short this thing weights a half ounce, takes up almost no room, and is a serviceable light for around camp.  I threw it on my ball cap in the evening to try it out and it worked fine for camp chores and walking around a bit.  It was also nice to have in my pocket when I arrived at camp in dusk and didn’t want to dig out my headlamp.  I would not hike with it at night as it isn’t super bright and has only one setting except for strobe.  You can’t pack it tightly as it doesn’t have a lockout, and it also has to cycle through the annoying strobe before turning off.  But for short trips with no need for extra batteries, the Swift Clip might be worth the half ounce in the event of a headlamp failure.

Don’t take my negatives above to be a detractor of the Swift Clip for its primary purpose. Amphipod does not market this as a backpacking headlamp.  It is probably much better suited for running and other activities for which it is designed.  However, I am always looking for items that have additional uses for hiking, and this is a great little backup light with no real weight penalty.

Greatest Backpacking Stove Ever?

With the exception of tents, maybe, I don’t think there are any other pieces of backpacking equipment that bring out more passion than stoves when folks talk about gear.  That is obviously a biased opinion of an admitted stove-junkie.  If you looked in my gear closet you would see a history of stoves including white gas, multi-fuel, canister, alcohol, and wood burning.  But after 30 years of searching I think I am done, and have fallen in love with….drum roll please….

The Trail Designs Caldera Sidewinder Ti-Tri with Inferno insert!

A full review from me and several others can be found on Trailspace.  I reread that review and feel it is still valid.  I have had this stove for 2 years now, and it is the longest time I have gone without surfing and shopping around for a new one.  Why?

Versatility – the Sidewinder Ti Tri, with Inferno insert, can use alcohol, Esbit, and wood.  To be honest I still haven’t tried the Esbit option more than a couple of times.  I use alcohol for quick stops and wood for camp except when conditions don’t allow.

Here is the stove in “alcohol mode” with the pot sitting well down in the cone and the efficient heating and windscreen created by the form fitting your pot.

Simmering – The downfall of most stoves is an inability to simmer well, although not an issue if you are boiling water and using freeze dried options for dinner.  I dehydrate a lot of my own food and simmer that, or some store bought items for a fresher approach. This is a great option with the Ti Tri Sidewinder after some practice.  You can boil water quickly with a small wood fire, then let it die down to mostly coals for a simmer and just add a little fuel here and there to keep things hopping.

Even the alcohol option has simmer capability if you futz around a bit and raise the pot to the wood burning setting. Here is the stove simmering dinner the other night in Shining Rock Wilderness – apologies for the lighting but it shows the simmering over coals well.

Weight and Packability – At around 4.5 ounces and fitting inside my Vargo 1.3 L pot, the Ti Tri is about as light as I really need and doesn’t impact my packing even for a long trip.  The pot holds my stove and my GSI mug holds my “fire kit”.

Enjoyment – One intangible about the Ti Tri with Inferno, which may not apply to everyone, is the satisfaction gained from using it.  I backpack a lot in wilderness areas with fire restrictions, but (after checking with each ranger’s office to make sure) wood burning stoves often don’t count as a fire.  Building a small fire well in this stove is as satisfying as building a campfire.

Here is one of the many “after dinner fires” I like to keep going for a few minutes.  It’s not exactly a camp fire, but provides some of the same enjoyment (and heat on a 10 degree night last winter).  Again, make sure this is legal in a campfire restricted area before using the wood burning mode!

Negatives are few for me:  a little complex to set up, very pricey if all you want to do is boil water, and the ubiquitous blackening of pots with the wood burning mode (a ziploc or stuff sack cure that for the most part).  To achieve LNT principles, you have to be careful of the ground surface when using wood burning mode.  The titanium base plate does protect the ground but can scorch grass or leaves.

I can’t recommend the Ti Tri highly enough…it is definitely my favorite piece of gear.  If you are not a boil in the bag cook, and enjoy some of the nuances of a campfire, this may be the stove for you too.