Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Cook Kit

I’ve been asked a few questions about my complete cook kit, so I figured I would put together a short post about it.


Over the years I have tried to simplify my cook kit and carry just the items that I need. My cooking is not complex. I usually just boil water and mix it with dry stuff like stuffing or mashed potatoes.

I wanted a cook system that was light and compact, but could also be used on an open fire rather than with a stove when the opportunity presents itself, and I needed it to be able to melt snow for water during winter, requiring a stove that can function in cold weather, and a pot large enough to melt enough water to fill my Nalgene bottle. The result was the cook system you see above.

My main pot is a SnowPeak 1L titanium pot. They don’t make this exact model any more. I’ve had it for at least five years now. The pot did not come with a lid handle because the lid was intended to be used as a plate, but I tapped it and put a handle because it is more important to me to have a good lid than a plate. I prefer a simple pot like this one when compared to ones with thermal exchangers like those you see on integrated pot/stove designs like JetBoil because I can use the pot directly on a fire without melting anything or having to clean sooth out of the heat exchanger. The pot weighs 4.7oz.

As you can also see from the picture, I have a cup as well. It is the 700ml Stoic Ti Kettle. It comes with a lid and some other accessories which I don’t use. It nest together with my Nalgene bottle. I use it to mix drinks, but I also keep it as a back up pot in case I damage my main pot. The cup weighs 3.1oz.

The next item is the stove. I use the Kovea Spider, which is a remote canister stove. It allows for inverted canister use, so I can use the fuel in liquid feed mode when the temperature is low. The stove is also very stable and relatively light weight. It weighs 5.9oz. I use it with the smaller 4oz canisters because they allow me to fit everything within the pot. An empty canister weighs 3.5oz.

The above are the main components of my cook kit. In addition to that I have a few smaller item. I have a bandana which holds everything together in the pot. It weighs 1.1oz. I also have a mini BIC lighter which weighs 0.4oz and an aluminum foil windscreen which weighs 0.4oz, although I am thinking of getting a slightly thicker windscreen. 


Everything together weighs 19.1oz and allows me to take care of all my cooking needs in the woods. If this type of stuff interests you, you may want to check out my minimalist cook kit.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gear Weight and Physical Fitness

I noticed an interesting phenomenon recently. It has been popping up all over the place, both on blogs and YouTube channels I follow. At first I brushed it off, but it is as if though there was some type of secret meeting where a party policy was set for how to answer certain questions. I guess I wasn’t invited to the conference.

What am I talking about? Well, it is the phenomenon of justifying the weight of a person’s gear by saying that the person is in good physical shape, so the weight doesn’t matter. “Does my 60lb pack look heavy to you? Well, if you were in as good of a physical shape as I am, you wouldn’t even notice it on your back!”; “Yes my gear is heavy, but that’s where physical conditioning comes in.”; “If you go in the woods, you have to be in good physical shape, so pack weight is not an issue.”, and so on and so forth. All of those statements imply, or outright state that if you are a burly woodsy type of MAN, then the weight of your pack does not matter. The only people concerned with the weight of their pack are out of shape girly-men.

Copy of Backpacker-BIG-pack

Once we get past their horribly offensive nature, all of those statements contain a grain of truth, but sadly they use that grain of truth to mask impractical gear choices and lack of careful planning. I strongly believe that physical conditioning is very important. Being in good shape minimizes injury, it lets you go further and do more, and many outdoor pursuits and terrains demand peak physical shape. Not all of us can achieve that, but it is a worthy goal none the less.

That being said, using brute physical force to overcome impractical gear choices does not actually make the gear choices any better. With the application of enough force you can use a completely dull axe to bash through a tree. That however, does not make a dull axe just as good as a sharp one, and neither does the choice to carry such a dull axe make the user more of a man, and it certainly does not make him more of a woodsman. It simply makes the user someone who either through hubris, lack of knowledge, or convoluted rationalization after the fact, has made an impractical gear choice. 

Physical strength is great, but using it to overcome poorly selected gear does not make those gear choices any better. It simply compensates for them, sometimes effectively, sometimes not, but either way you pay a price.

Just like carrying a dull axe instead of a sharp one is a poor gear choice from a practical stand point, regardless of whether the user has the physical strength to bring down a tree, carrying an unnecessarily heavy piece of gear is an impractical choice regardless of whether one can compensate through the use of greater physical force.

It is a fine line between a man with a backpack and a pack animal. The former can quickly turn into the later through the gear choices he makes. More weight on your back means higher risk of short term and long term injury, higher energy expenditure requiring higher water and food consumption, decreased maximum duration of your trips because of the higher food consumption and the decreased amount of food that can be carried, decreased speed and ability to travel over difficult terrain, and ultimately it means having to sacrifice additional equipment. Replacing your 8 lb shelter with one that is of equal strength and size, but weighs 3 lb, will free up weight for other items. With the 5 lb you saved, you can bring a full size axe, or a rifle, or an additional three days of food, or you can simply have a lighter pack so that with your manly physical conditioning, you can now move much faster, travel over harder terrain, hunt over a larger range, and do more while in the woods. The difference is considerable, especially when you imagine taking the same approach with respect to all of your gear.

Now, I know that at this point someone will jump in with a comment about how the gear they carry is their personal choice and is based on intangible factors like aesthetics, childhood memories, etc, so who am I to tell them what to carry. Please note that I have no interest in telling anyone that they shouldn’t carry a particular piece of gear just because the choice was based on aesthetics. I think that is great. There is nothing wrong with selecting gear based on looks, nostalgia, or any other intangible factor. What I am commenting on here is the inexplicable need people have to then try to justify those aesthetic choices in terms of practicality. In particular, I am addressing one of the justification strategies, i.e. “if you are in good shape, the weight of your gear doesn’t matter”. Here I am speaking to the validity of that justification, and am asserting that it is a very poor one.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Trip Report: Bear Mountain 4/5/14 – 4/6/14

The weather here continues to be all over the place. This past weekend my friend John and I got together for a little trip. John has a lot of experience climbing, but not so much with general woods travel, so we decided to take it easy, and stay at lower elevation, where the snow has mostly melted away, and the temperatures are not much below 32F (0C). We picked some terrain in the northern portion of Bear Mountain and got started.


In this area you get above tree line fairly quickly even at low elevations. The winds were strong, blowing at about 45 mph, and it was cloudy and overcast the whole day.


Oh yeah, and if you look at the above picture by my right trekking pole, you can see Rhea hiding behind a rock. I brought her along.

Before long it was noon, and we stopped for lunch.

Copy (2) of IMG_8715

Along the way we passed by few 18th century mines.


We quickly made our way to the ridge of the mountain, and kept going along it, heading for the spot where we planned to overnight.

Copy of IMG_8718

Both John and I were moving at a very good pace and we arrived at our intended overnight area way sooner than we expected. The sky was darkened by clouds, but it was still only 2pm. We got busy selecting an area to camp and setting up. A Boy Scout troop had set up their overnight camp in the same area, but for some reason they had selected to camp right on top of the ridge.


With the strong winds I can’t imagine they had a comfortable night. They were lucky the rain held off. On an exposed ridge like that, even a small storm can be brutal. John and I decided to go into a small valley which was sheltered from the winds.


We quickly gathered firewood for the evening and got the fire going. Even though it has been warming up lately, in the evening the temperatures were getting close to 32F (0C). We sat around, cooked food, and killed time until sundown.


Rhea spent her time in the tent trying to stay warm.


The night was chilly. It dropped down to 28F (-2C). Both John and I had overdone the sleeping bag insulation, so we were nice and warm. Again, surprisingly, I had no condensation at all in the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 tent. I only had the small vent open, but there was no condensation at all.

In the morning we woke up to some wonderful sunshine. I warmed up Rhea, got the fire going again, and made some breakfast.

Copy of IMG_8797

We then packed up and made quick time down the mountain along a different route. The trip wasn’t particularly challenging, and the weather cooperated the whole way. We did about 10 miles all together with about 500 ft of elevation gain.


It was my first trip with John, and he was a great partner. I’m looking forward to much more challenging trips in the future.

Friday, April 4, 2014

CampSaver One Stop Shop Ultralight Gear List

Over the past few weeks, Hendrik Morkel from Hiking in Finland has been posting a great series which him and his friend developed a series titled One Stop Shop. The theory behind the series was to challenge some well known suppliers of outdoor gear to provide a complete ultralight gear list for three season backpacking from items they have in stock. You can see the challenge in Hendrik’s introduction to the series here.

To summarize, the requirements for this theoretical three season trip are:

  • Day temperature of 50F (10C) to 59F (15C)
  • Night temperature of 32F (0C) to 41F (5C)
  • Rain is possible every day
  • Mosquitoes aren’t there yet
  • Tours are 10 - 14 days long

The gear offered must include Backpack, Sleeping bag or quilt, Mattress, Shelter, Pot, Stove, Cutlery, Knife, Lamp, Trekking poles, Shoes, Fleece jacket, Insulation jacket, Rain pants, Rain jacket, Base layer (Boxers and T-Shirt), and Long sleeve shirt.

Most of the distributors participating so far have been European ones. One of them however, CampSaver is a US distributor, and I thought it would be useful to look at their recommendations for those who may not be following bloggers from across the pond. You can see the original post from Henrdik here.

Backpack: Exped Lightning 60


In all honesty, the pack is probably too large for this particular gear list. The Exped Lightning 45 would have probably done just as well, but it is not stocked by the store. Still, coming in at 2 lb 6.8 oz for a 60L pack is not bad at all. Interestingly this pack has gone out of stock since the post, but when they re-stock, it will be priced at $248.95.

Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardwear Mtn Speed 32


The Mountain Harwear Mtn Speed 32 is an excellent minimalist sleeping bag. It is rated to 32F (0C), has 850 fill down, and weighs 15.5 oz for the regular size. It will set you back $479.95.

Mattress/Sleeping Pad: Therm-A-Rest NeoAir X-Lite


The pad weighs 12 oz for the regular size and will cost you $159.95. I’m a fan of the NeoAir pads. I carry around a 15 oz XTherm because it is warmer and I use it year round, but this is a good choice.

Shelter: Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum


This semi free standing tent is a popular choice that weighs 1 lb 15 oz and costs $549.95. To be honest for a three season ultralight set up I would go with a tarp instead. It will not only be lighter, but much cheaper. Sometimes to cut weight you have to spend the money. However, this is not one of those times in my opinion.

Pot: Evernew Titanium UltraLight Deep Pot 


This pot comes in several sizes. The one recommended by CampSaver is the 0.9L version, which weighs 4.4 oz and costs $63.95. It is not a bad way to go, although I prefer shorter and wider pots. I just find them easier to use.

Stove: Esbit Titanium Solid Fuel Stove


The stove is certainly ultralight at 0.38 oz. It only costs $11.96. I’m not a fan of solid fuel stoves. I always have a hard time getting two cups of water to boil with it. It works, but it always feels like a hassle.

Cutlery: Alite Cloverware 2.0 Utensilss This eating utensil set costs $9.95 and weighs 0.1 oz. I can’t say I am crazy about it. I would much prefer a simple spoon.

Knife: Gerber Ultralight LST


It looks like a nice little knife. It somewhat resembles the Fallkniven F1 in shape, although the blade is barely 2 inches long. The knife weighs 0.6 oz, and costs $20.60. As you know I like a more robust knife, and if I was going to go with a small blade, I would probably chose the Leatherman Micra, which is heavier, but gives you a set of pliers.

Lamp: Petzl e+LITE Headlamp


This tiny headlamp weighs 0.95 oz, and costs $29.95. I would personally prefer a headlamp that runs on more readily available batteries. This one use CR2032 batteries, which I imagine would be challenging to find and expensive.

Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z-Poles These trekking poles feature a three section carbon fiber collapsible design. They weigh 9.2 oz and cost $104.97. They are light weight, but I prefer trekking poles with adjustable section. I find it easier to use them to pitch a shelter. Otherwise, I generally like Black Diamond equipment.

Shoes: Salewa Firetail EVO Hiking Shoes The shoes weight 26.4 oz for the pair, and will set you back $118.95. I haven’t used them, so I can’t say much more than that.

Fleece: Patagonia R1 Hoody This is a great choice for a fleece layer. I have the R1 pullover, and it works well. The hoody weighs 12.6 oz and costs $159.00.

Insulation: Mont Bell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket I think this jacket is an example of overdoing it. It is a wonderful product, featuring 1000 fill down insualtion, and weighs just 4.8 oz. The downside for such extremely high fill is that it costs $269.00. I would personally go with a heavier but much cheaper jacket like the Patagonia Nano Puff.

Rain Pants: Patagonia Torrentshell Stretch Pant The pants weigh 10.8 oz and cost $169.00. They have full length side zippers which I find important, and seem to be a well priced for what they offer.

Rain Jacket: Marmot Super Mica Jacket The jacket weighs 8.7 oz and costs $224.95. I haven’t used this material (NanoPro MemBrain), so I can’t say much about the durability or performance.

Boxers: Patagonia Lightweight Briefs I’m a boxer-brief man myself, but I suppose these will do. They weigh 1.9 oz and cost 24.00.

T-Shirt: Rab Aeon Tee The t-shirt weighs 3 oz and costs 34.95.

Long Sleeve Shirt: Arc’teryx Phase SL Crew Longsleeve The shirt weighs 3.8 oz and costs $68.95. I’m not a fan of long sleeve shirts, but it was part of the criteria, so here you have it.

All of that gear adds up to 11 lb 11.5 oz, and will set you back about $2748.00. The weight of the gear is not bad at all, but the price surely hits hard. I think there are a lot of examples of gear that is more expensive than it needs to be for the weight savings. For example, replacing the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum with a tarp will save not only a bit of weight, but also more than $400 is cash. Same thing goes for the Mountain Hardwear Mtn Speed 32 sleeping bag. Granted, it is hard to find a lighter bag with that rating, but by sacrificing literally only a few ounces of weight, you can save hundreds of dollars. Even going for another high end down bag like the Western Mountaineering Highlite will save you $150. If you are willing to sacrifice some comfort, you can save even more weight and over $100 by switching to a closed cell foam pad. An REI Flash 45 backpack will save you another $150 without adding any weight. 

All that being said however, I think it is an interesting exercise, and a lot of the recommendations are top of the line products. Considering that the list covers both gear and clothing, the price tag is not all that extreme. If you are looking for a high end set up, this is not a bad place to start. The one piece of gear that wasn’t part of the requirements, but I consider important is a water filter like the Sawyer Mini Filter, and a water bottle. 

Anyway, if you are interested in the lists, check out the One Stop Shop at Hiking in Finland.