All posts by FlipNC

Out There: A Voice from the Wild – Chris Townsend

One of my Christmas goodies this year was Chris Townsend’s new book – Out There: A Voice from the Wild.  I just finished it, appropriately, on a couple of rainy evenings in my tent on a backpacking trip.  I am not sure there is a better way to read a good book than with the sound of rain on the tent.

If you love reading outdoor writers, in the realm of Colin Fletcher – my first introduction to the genre decades ago, then Chris Townsend should definitely be on your list.  Out There is a collection of writings that covers his long distance trips, notable backpacking wilderness experiences, his favorite outdoor writers (similar list to mine which is probably why I enjoy his writing), and other topics.  I can already tell I will be coming back to read this again and again over the years, as I do with several other favorites (e.g. Fletcher’s A Thousand Mile Summer).

I enjoyed the entire book, but his discussions of several different backpacking trips including High Sierra wilderness and the TGO Challenge stand out for me personally.  I also can feel the love of wilderness in his writing and much of his approach, including appreciation for the camping aspect as much as the hiking, is similar to mine.  I think it is this similarity that enhances my enjoyment of his writings, and results in me tending to weight his opinions on some equipment higher than others (don’t expect equipment to be a focus – this is not a how to guide to backpacking).

If you are not familiar with Chris and his writing, you might have seen The Backpacker’s Handbook (I think in the fourth edition now).  His website has a full list of books including some older ones on long distance walks through recent publications.  I highly recommend Grizzly Bears and Razor Clams as well as Out There.  I have read several others and am planning on reading many more as I feel Chris is doing the best current job of filling Colin Fletcher’s shoes (or boots?).

UCO Sweetfire Strikeable Fire Starter Review

Another Trailspace Review Corps test has been uploaded to that site for the UCO Sweetfire Strikeable Fire Starter.  This was an interesting one and I struggled with the rating a bit.  It attempts to be a match and a fire starter/tinder and does pretty well with both, but as usual when you do too much you can’t do everything as well.

Vargo Ultimate Fire Starter Review

I completed my first review for the Trailspace Review Corps last week.  The Vargo Ultimate Fire Starter is a neat little device that any wood stove or campfire enthusiast might find interesting. It combines the function of a fire steel/spark lighter with the addition of an extendable bellows to help stoke the fire.  I find it really helpful tinkering with my Calder Ti Tri wood stove.

Please go to Trailspace for the full review.

Mammoth Cave Backpacking Trip and Gear Reviews

I just added a trip report from a quick overnight gear test in Mammoth Cave National Park.  In addition, there are three new gear reviews on that page (Bushnell folding binoculars and Smoked Three Bean Chili and Thai Curry from Good To-Go).  Stay tuned…I have a busy holiday planned with another trip report and several more gear reviews!

A couple of winter adjustments…

As I adjust my gear list for the current and upcoming cold weather season, I thought I would post a couple of the adjustments that I make besides adding cold weather clothes etc…

 

First off, for my alcohol stove I carry an extra little fuel container – actually an old camp soap container.  This 2 ounce bottle stays in my pocket and keeps relatively warm.  I find that the fuel lights better when it is not freezing cold.  It also has a handy dispenser cap that makes filling the stove much easier.  I will probably consider carrying it next year as well regardless of temperature.

The other adjustment that comes immediately to mind is going back to my trusty Nalgene bottles.  This has multiple benefits over Smartwater and other disposable bottles that are lighter.  First, they don’t freeze very quickly and once they do, the wide mouth allows you to chip away at the ice if needed.  Even better, they are tough enough to lay near the stove and help thaw out….in the photo above I am cooking bannock and also thawing my water bottle.

This is not all you must do to “winterize” your kit, but its a start.  See the links section for several sites with excellent winter backpacking advice.

Bear Country: Hanging vs Canister

I used to hate going to areas with bear canister requirements.  The extra couple of pounds of weight in the pack felt like 10, and they just don’t pack that well in any backpack, and plain old don’t fit in some.  In bear country, I was much happier hanging a bear bag. In fact I used to take pride in picking out a campsite with a good bag tree and got even more satisfaction from a “good hang”.

As the years have passed and the back country has got more popular the inevitable increase of human-bear interactions has likewise increased the number of areas with canister requirements.  This is not a trend I was appreciative of, but it was counteracted by another trend: my journey to lighter weight backpacking.

Now that I have shed pounds off my pack weight, I find the addition of a canister not as much of a burden.  In fact, I really like not having to bother with bear bag hanging at camp, and in real bear country now prefer the canister for convenience and as a handy camp stool.  After fiddling around with multiple packing scenarios, I have found a couple of good methods to fit a couple of sizes of canisters (BV-450 and 500) in a couple of different packs (ULA Ohm 2.0 and Gregory Z55) for trips up to 6 nights.

In the Ohm, I put the BV-450 in sitting upright on short trips and pad around it.  For longer trips with more equipment it works better on its side (which avoids it pushing out toward your back.  For the BV-500, it only fits in the Ohm upright.  In the Z-55 it fits the same way and still has room for up to a 6 day trip.

If I could only figure out a way to rig up a backrest on a canister (a “chair canister) I am convinced I might bring one on every trip!

 

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.