The Perfect Backpacking Holiday Present: The Jetboil Stove System


My desire to have presents under the tree, no doubt, is a leftover from when I was a kid. As a kid, the sky was the limit. Now, I will content to see just one: the Jetboil Sol Advanced Cooking System.

I’ve had my eye on it for several years, but felt in the original version was was just too bulky and heavy; not quit perfected.  The newer models are improved versions of the all-in-one concept of fuel, stand, stove, cup and cover nicely integrated into one lightweight unit.

The Sol is 10.5 oz. (300g) according to the specs, will hold 27 ounces (0.8 liters), and will bring the whole thing to a boil in 4 minutes, 30 seconds. You can even see through the side so you know when the water is boiling–a nice feature. Check it out.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Ray Jardin: Father of Modern Lightweight Backpacking

It was 1998 and I had just finished my first year of backpacking with a pack that weighed in at 45+ pounds. Then I read the book, the Ray Way, a guide to ultralight backpacking, and instantly became a devotee. His wisdom lead to my quest for ultralight backpacking and ultimately this blog.  He and his wife were able to get their packs to 9 pounds on a PCT trip while the rest of us where still hauling 5 times that much.

Without doing a lot of history research, I figured Jardin was the father of modern lightweight backpacking, since legends like John Muir, who carried a rucksack with a few hard biscuits, must have been the original “father” back at the turn of the century.

In any case, Jardin published a book in 2009 I just discovered: “Trail Life, Ray Jardine’s Lightweight Backpacking” with the subtitle: 25,000 miles of trail-tested know-how.

Seems like a no-brainer as a must-read for anyone who wants to lighten their load.

A interesting note: Jardine was age 50 when his original book came out. He is now pushing 70. No doubt he is still on the move.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Super Ultra light Esbit Titanium Stove … Not New, but Worth Repeating

A few years ago, I posted a review of my Esbit Pocket Stove, a small metal box that weighs 3 oz and burns a single Esbit hexamine tablet.

In culling 14 years of backpacking equipment, I came across my Esbit Titanium Folding Stove ($12.28 at Amazon), which weighs a mere 0.40 ounces (on a very accurate electronic scale); less than 1/2 ounce. The esbit fuel tablet that powers it weighs 0.45. Together, they add up to a mere 0.85 of 1oz! Does it actually work? I thought I would do a 2013 re-test for you super ultra lighters who like their trail food hot.

Test Results
I fired up the tiny Esbit, added one cup of water (enough for a single serving of oatmeal or a cup tea or coffee) and got a rolling boil in about 3 1/2 minutes. A neat feature: you can blow out the flame and save what’s left of the fuel tablet for another meal. This test left more than a half tablet.


For two cups of water (enough for your oatmeal AND tea or coffee), it took about 8 minutes and used about 3/4ths of one fuel tab. Note:these tests were done at sea level.

If you are rehydrating food with water for dinner, you can figure 3 tablets per day (2 for dinner and one for breakfast). That adds up to 9 tablets for a three-night trip. Tablet weight: 4.5 ounces (9 @ 0.45); stove weight: 0.4. Total for three days: 4.9 ounces. Add a couple of more tabs for backup (less than 1 oz). You can buy a box of 12 Esbit 1400 Degree Smokeless Solid Fuel Cubes for just $4.99.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

 

The Perfect Lightweight Camp Cup

When I began my ultralight backpacking quest in 1998, manufacturers were producing big, heavy everything — tents, packs, pads and accessories. Backpackers had to be part pack mule to haul all the stuff around. Fast forward to 2013 and the focus on ultralight with lighter materials and lots of innovative minds churning out ever lighter gadgets. Like many others, my initial guide was “Beyond Backpacking: Ray Jardine’s Guide to Light Hiking.”

I’ve long since slimmed down my pack (and occasionally fattened it back up with comfort items). Now, I just look for interesting stuff to write about.

I bought a titanium sierra cup in the ultralight tradition. Pros: it’s light and when the contents get cold, you can just put it on the campstove and heat it up. Cons: everything gets cold fast.

Something New
Frankly, I don’t like my coffee going lukewarm and then cold just a few minutes after pouring it. So, I’ve been looking around and stumbled onto a cup selling at REI. It’s plastic with non-slip handle and non-skip bottom to prevent it from sliding off an uneven surface. A tight-fitting cover keeps liquid in and helps maintain warmth.

The bottom line: it’s $7.50. And, it weighs only 4.0 ounces — about the same as my titanium version which cost at least $30 when I purchased it. Check it out.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Starting Fire with Steel Wool and a Battery

It always useful to have a back up (or two) and the know-how to start a fire when you forget your matches or they get wet in a rain storm. This battery method looks so simple. I knew that fine “0000″ steel wool burns easily with a match even if is is wet. But this is one more ultralight tool for that all important fire for cooking for keeping warm. Be sure to keep a fresh battery in your pack.


Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

The Book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed a Must-Read

A couple of weeks ago, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (an Oprah book pick and New York Times bestseller), was in my hometown in Mendocino, California talking about her book.

Her story details how, burdened by a pack she names “monster” (sounds like 80-100 pounds), she sets off from the town of Mohave with the intention of hiking the PCT. She is completely unprepared (despite buying every possible piece of “essential” gear she could find at REI), destroys her feet from boots too small and her body in general from the pack’s weight. It’s the story of her struggle to literally survive on the trail and figuratively from a life gone wild and out of control. She even packs a dozen condoms as part of her survival gear.

Going Wild

Strayed says the death of her mother from cancer just  seven weeks after the diagnosis sent her into a tail spin: she cheated on her husband (which led to a divorce) and was having regular one-night stands with strangers; met a heroin addict and became his boyfriend (and an addict) and, as part of her crazy behavior, decided to set off alone — with no experience — on the PCT.  She even made up  her last name, Strayed, after getting a divorce. Instead of going back to her maiden name, she picked “Stayed” … I guess because her life strayed off course.

Ultimately, Stayed only covers about 1,100 of the PCT’s 2,600 miles and totally missed 400 miles of the Sierra because the year she hiked there were record snowfalls. But that’s kind of beside the point of her book. Light backpackers will find the story of the pack and its weight enough reason to read the book. It’s beyond belief.

A New Kind of Hero

Sadly, it is becoming more common for people to do stupid or careless things in the wilderness — and because they survive — are hailed as heroic. Apparently Oprah sees Cheryl Strayed that way … heroic like Aron Ralston, who went solo canyoneering, didn’t tell anyone, got his arm caught under a boulder and had to cut it off.  His so-called brave act garnered him big money from his book, Between and Rock and a Hard Place and his movie, 127 Hours (I read the book and saw the movie). No doubt Cheryl Strayed is looking at a movie down the road.

Strayed was 22 when she started to spin out of control. She’s now in her early 40s and has settled down with a new husband, two children and a book tour.

Wild is a well-written, fascinating tale. And Strayed is very charming and authentic. She noted in her talk that she and her new husband plan to take the kids and hike the entire PCT. No doubt there will be a book in that, too.

 

 

 

 

 

Exped DownMat 7UL – High Comfort, Warmth and Lightness at a Reasonable Price

On my first backpack 15 years ago my pack basics (pack, tent, pad, bag) weighed a whopping 21 pounds. Today – what a relief – the total is 8 pounds, 1 ounce.

I do it this way:
Osprey Aether Pack – 2800 cu (good for 7 days) – 1.5 pounds
Tent – Sierra Design Light Year (aluminum poles) – 3.0 pounds
Sleeping bag – Western Mountaineering – 1.0 pounds
Sleeping Pad – Exped DownMat 7 – 2.6 pounds
Total – 8 pounds, 1 ounce

Alternative:
Ditch the tent and employ the fly-floor configuration (1 pound)
Use my short Thermarest (14 ounces) instead of the DownMat
Total with these substitutions – 4 pounds, 7 ounces.

However, carrying the added 3 pounds, 4 ounces – for the DownMat 7 and full tent – I earn a huge payoff in warmth, comfort and mosquito-free sleep. The 5.9 R Value for the regular 2.5 cm mat allows me to carry a one-pound sleeping bag for three seasons.

Here’s good news for you: Exped has just released the DownMat 7 UL (ultralight) and the medium size is only 20.5 ounces, compared with 34 ounces for my three-year-old DownMat 7! And, I the D7 UL is rated for -11 F.

Be light. Be Safe. Be one with the pack.

Sometimes Beauty is Just Down the Street … Literally

I was standing by this waterfall awhile back talking to a backpacking companion, gazing at the waterfall and asking him what we were going to do on our next backpack. He said, “Bruce, look around, is there anything more beautiful than this?” The waterfall at Russian Gulch State Park in Northern California is a 10-minute drive and a 20-minute walk from my home.

Best Apple iPhone Apps for GPS-Led Adventures

I’ve experimented the past few years with all kinds of electronic gadgets I thought I might make good trail companions.

The iPod nano was a favorite: a little more than an ounce with a video camera and music. My iPhone 3 offered books to read after dark. Then my iPhone 4 provided the total package of still camera, video camera, books and Apps to guide you in the wilderness. Battery life is an issue, but now they’ve got solar chargers.

With all the interest in smart phones, it’s no wonder Backpacker Magazine’s Fall/Winter Gear Guide 2011 features “the three best hiking Apps” for iPhone (all three are made for the iPhone, one for the iPad and one for Android). I own an iPad2, but can’t see myself carrying it into the wilderness — too much weight and too expensive to replace if is gets dropped.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.