Fresh Backpacking Bread

OK.  It doesn’t look pretty, but there is absolutely nothing I like better on the trail than fresh bread.  My standard recipe is “bannock” – a Scottish word for a type of flat bread.  Despite being born in Scotland, and moving to the US at age 10, I didn’t hear of bannock bread until the early 1980s as I started backpacking.  An old 1960’s book by Bradford Angier, “Home in Your Pack”.

Within this little book, with much outdated information, is almost a whole chapter on bannock including the simple recipe:

A little oil in a pan/pot, the right amount of water mixed in the ziploc with the ingredients, and about 5 minutes later you have fresh hot bread.  I eat it sometimes on a long lunch break with some cheese and bacon bits or other protein.  Most often, I cook it fresh for breakfast and eat it with a bit of string cheese or just on its own – breaking off nice warm pieces between sips of coffee on a frosty morning.

Variations that I seldom use but are excellent

  • add some berries picked along the trail
  • add less water and make more of a biscuit
  • drop it on top of cooked fruit like apples and it will quickly cook into a cobbler

This is not an ultralight meal, but it hits the spot on cold days.  There are few things better to satisfy hunger and warm your insides than this!

Solo Backpacking Safety – Decision Time

A couple of recent trips and non-trips got me thinking about my favorite way to travel in the backcountry – solo – and how that may affect decision making on, or off, the trail.  A couple of examples:

A few weeks ago I went on a trip to Shining Rock Wilderness in western NC while my wife was at a four-day event mid state.  I planned to drop her off on the way and pick up on the way back and have three nights in the woods.  Starting on day two, I began to feel excessively tired and also began to get a constant heart burn.  By night two, it was difficult to eat and I had no energy.  A decade or so ago (I am quickly approaching 50 now), I would have soldiered through and toughed it out.  However, since I was on my own and in a relatively untraveled part of the wilderness, I decided to leave a day early at a slow pace.  Turns out that I was definitely feeling sick and got a little worse, but luckily the heartburn was just that (and coincidental with trying a new dish in the field rather than at home like I usually do).  I don’t regret leaving a day early – better safe than sorry when solo at my age, and I have always promised my lovely wife that I would be careful to ease her worries.

Here we are a few weeks later, and due to bad luck I cancelled a weekend trip to VA to another wilderness area.  I was going to leave on Friday after work and have a short two-night exploration of an area I hadn’t been to in a couple of decades.  Woke up Friday morning feeling awful and stayed home from work.  It was difficult, with my trusty pack already to go and in mid-afternoon feeling a bit better, but I held with the initial decision to postpone a week.  Good decision as I slipped back on Friday night and am still feeling kind of puny on Saturday – not the fitness level you need to tackle several steep climbs and waterless ridges.  The pack is staying by the door ready for next weekend!

I guess the moral of the story is when going solo, and especially as you advance in “experience” (age), playing it safer is probably the best option for you and your significant others.

Esbit vs Alcohol for Backpacking

I have read a bunch of blogs and comments about the benefits and negatives of alcohol vs esbit solid fuel as alternatives for lightweight backpacking stoves.  Here is my two cents after running a comparison at home.

I have been using the Caldera Ti Tri Sidewinder for a couple of years – primarily using wood burning mode in the evening and alcohol mode for breakfast and a quicker getaway onto the trail.  I only used Esbit a couple of times and decided it was less efficient.  In looking back, I don’t think I gave it a fair shake as it was a cold and windy trip (15-20 deg F).  So I decided to run a test today and compare the heating and burn times of an Esbit fuel tab and alcohol.  Here are the results:

Test Method:  Heat to boiling (2 cups of tap temperature cool water) and burn time of one 14g Esbit fuel tab and 2 tablespoons of alcohol.  Outside conditions:  no wind and around 65 degrees.

Esbit Fuel:

9 minutes to bring water to rolling boil.

16 minutes to use up entire tab.

Alcohol:

5.5 minutes to bring water to rolling boil.

10 minutes to use 2 tablespoons of fuel.

Fuel comparison:  while the Esbit weighs only 14 grams, it seems to be relatively equal in weight to the alcohol, which weighed slightly more but needed less time to boil.  The Esbit also didn’t continue the boil the last couple of minutes but died down to a simmer as it shrunk.

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Esbit tabs weigh a bit more than a tablespoon of alcohol, but significantly less than 2.

There is some residue left by Esbit on the pot, but it was easily removed.  Didn’t bother me as my pot is already blackened from years of wood fires.

This simple test is not really conclusive or scientific.  I didn’t do multiple tests (too cheap to burn that much Esbit without eating something!), orient the tablet in different directions, etc.  However, my general conclusion is that the weight difference is negligible for a short trip and it “boils” down (pun intended) to your personal preference.