Lightweight Light: Snow Peak Lantern Review

Whether you’re a backpacking pro just beginning your quest to be lightweight or a beginner, every year presents a whole new set of innovations. If you’re like me, you won’t be able to resist getting the latest and the lightest—no matter how many of a thing you already own. Cost be dammed! (my wife just cringed).

I am going to say this unapologetically: I love gear and I own multiples of everything and am always looking for new, better, lighter stuff. That includes at least a half dozen versions of lightweight lights.

No Matches Needed

Among them is the Snow Peak GL-100 — A backpacking lantern with auto ignition (no match needed; there is also a cheaper manual version). It weighs 4.5 ounces–with mesh globe–and fits in the palm of your hand. The protective plastic case adds another ounce, but to save the extra weight you can simply wrap it in a couple of paper towels and shove it into your pot for protection.This can be a particularly important little addition to your pack if no fires are allowed. Sure, I like to sit and look at the stars at night, but that only goes so far. If you can’t have a fire, I would like to have other options besides climbing into my tent for a long night. Continue reading

Secrets for Cleaning Goose Down Sleeping Bags

We’ve all heard the warnings about the sensitive nature of our down-filled sleeping bags and how easy it is to damage them with the wrong cleaning techniques.

Well, actually they are as easy to clean as one, two, three.

  1. Place your bag in a front-loading washing machine (never an agitator, top loading).
  2. Add Nikwax Down Wash (follow the directions for correct amount).
  3. Place your bag in a dryer on low with three tennis balls to break up the lumps and help it dry. I own two high quality Western Mountaineering bags (HighLite and Sequoia MF microfiber) and have washed them successfully several times – usually at the end of the season.

I’m told washing too often will remove the natural waterproofness of the feathers, but Nikwax actually adds waterproofing so this isn’t a worry.

Continue reading

Dog Tags – A Good Old Idea for Lightweight ID

Dog tags have been the main source of identification for soliders for decades. And they work for backpacking as well.

Rather than carry a wallet or other identification in the wilderness, I wear a lanyard around my neck with a dog tag that gives my vitals: name, phone number and healthcare plan ID. I also have a whistle and two Photon II mini-lights (which weigh less than an ounce each).

I.D. tags Whether you’re hiking solo or going with friends, having this information on your body can be a lifesaver.

The double G.I. type dog tags from Ultraforce with rubber sound silencers around the metal allow you to include blood type, allergies and other important medical information. 

Having an I.D., a whistle, and light all attached to your body, rather than in your pack — for a few ounces — is a good way to be lightweight and safe at the same time.

If you fall, get lost or get separated from your pack and the Ten Essentials, you’ll always have these essentials at hand. If you don’t think this is important, read Angels in the Wilderness: The True Story of One Woman?s Survival Against All Odds by Amy Racina and Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston.

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

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Esbit Pocket Stove Review – Lightweight and Low Tech

At 3.5 ounces and only $9.95, the Esbit Pocket Stove is a great lightweight stove.

The stove is fueled by non-toxic odorless, smokeless, non-explosive Esbit tablets that burn for 12 minutes, weigh a half ounce and cost about 75 cents each. They come 12 to a package.

The solid fuel and stove has been around for 70 years, used for camping and by the military for heating rations.

ESBIT stands for "Erich Schumms Brennstoff in Tablettenform" (Erich Schumm's Fuel in Tablets). Invented in Murrhardt, Germany in 1932, its main components are 1,3,5-trioxane and hexamine. "Esbit" is a genericized trademark as it is used to refer to similar products made by other companies.

Made of steel and folding to just 3"x 4"x 3/4", the Esbit stove draws a lot of discussion in lightweight backpacking chat rooms, bulletin boards and blogs. There seems to be no disagreement about whether or not it works. But rather lots of discussion about how fast it boils water and whether it leaves soot on the bottom of your pot. My home test (at sea level): one tab boils two cups of water in 5 minutes, maintains a full boil for another five minutes, then begins to burn out. The hexamine tabs leave black soot on the bottom of the pot (see below left), which should be wiped off before putting it back in your pack (unless you want a dirty pack).

Soot on bottom of potTwo Positions
The Esbit Stove has two positions when you snap it open: 45 degrees for smaller pots and 90 degrees for larger pots. The .8 liter titanium pot requires the 45 degree position. A tip: after awhile, the stove rivets get loose and the 45 degree positon does not hold well. I drilled out one rivet on each side of the Esbit and installed a screw with wingnut to tighten it as necessary.

Other Thoughts
At high altitude, above 10,000 feet, the Esbit stove boils water quickly (faster than five minutes) compared with gas stoves, which can be a bit touchy on cold mornings.

Is it lighter than other stoves? It certainly fits the lightweight criteria, but it’s all about how much cooking you do – the more cooking, the more fuel you need and that adds weight.

If you only heat water, one tab will produce enough hot water to rehydrate your dinner meal and make a cup of tea. Another tab in the morning will provide boiling water for tea and oatmeal. For a three-day trip, six tabs and stove might total 6.5 ounces. Esbit stove in action

Don’t Skimp
I typically use three fuel tabs for dinner (boil water, then cook pasta for 8 to 10 minutes) and 1-2 tabs mornings if I’m having coffee and oatmeal. I will plan on five tabs per day, which even at ½ ounce each can add up fast.

Compare these weights with a gas stove and small fuel canister. If you carry one of the really light stoves, like the Coleman Exponent F1 stove (3 ounces) or the MSR Pocket Rocket stove (3 ounces) and a half can of fuel, you can keep the weight close to the Esbit setup.

Like other stoves, it helps to have a screen available on windy days (my recent test was on our stove top at home with no wind and 68 degrees). A piece of aluminum foil folded several times will do the job.

I actually have several stoves and use them at different times. When going to high altitude in the Eastern Sierra, I take my Esbit. If I’m going out for a few days and just want convenience, I take a self-starting gas stove.

Ideally – if money is no object – you will have multiple pieces of equipment from which you can pick and choose depending on the trip you’re taking. I’m a bit of a gearhead and seem to have three of everything.

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

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Lightweight Food Review: A Chef 5 Minute Meal Taste Test

Chef 5 Minute Meals Chicken Pasta Parmesan (Pack of 6)

A couple of weeks back, I told readers about a new backcountry kitchen discovery: Chef 5 Minute Meals Chicken Pasta Parmesan (Pack of 6) — a meal that comes complete with eating utensils, napkin, salt and pepper and a built-in oven. That's right, there is a magnesium pad in the box that turns into steam when you add the included package of salt water (see below right).

Let the oven heat for two minutes, then put the meal upside down on the steaming pad for five minutes and you've got food heated to 140 degrees. Since the food is already cooked, you're only heating for eating pleasure.  You can leave it to steam longer if you want very hot food.

I bought several of the boxed meals and tried spaghetti and meatballs, chicken pasta parmesan and a chocolate dessert.

About the TasteOven

I think most backpackers share the sentiment that just about anything within reason tastes good when you're in the wilderness, away from home cooking.

The real test is whether the food tastes decent in your home, for lunch or dinner, when you can eat anything you want. From that perspective, Chef 5-Minute Meals passed the test. They are actually pretty tasty. The pasta wasn't exactly al dente, but not mushy either. There are no preservatives, no trans fats and about 4 grams of saturated fat. Calories were 220 for the chicken pasta and 260 for spaghetti. The Choco-la Burst dark Belgium chocolate dessert is 330 calories for two cakes with chocolate frosting and somewhat shockingly contains 23 grams of fat. Well, what better place to splurge than when you're hiking off thousands of calories each day?

As for the company claim that they are only 9 ounces, that is only half true because the actual food, minus all the containers, boxes, bags, etc. is 9 ounces. The total package is 1 pound, 1 ounce.  In addition, the box, which measures 6" by 8" by 2", is rather bulky for a small backpack.

MealLightweight Worthy?

Life is but a series of compromises, a good friend of mine says often. And Chef 5-Minute Meals are just that. No water is required and no fuel, two important factors if you're someplace where water is scare or you are trying to conserve fuel.

If you took cold cereal for breakfast, had no coffee or tea, and took two of these Chef 5-Minute meals  you could leave your fuel and stove behind for the weekend and still get a hot meal and dessert. I would need to experiment with this, but I suspect you could remove the dinners from their packaging, bring one box and on styrofoam container to serve as the oven for multiple nights and actually be well within the ballpark of lightweight. Since dehydrated meals require water, stove and fuel to prepare, you can see the trade off.

Try it for yourself before you go on the trail.

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

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Western Mountaineering Highlite Sleeping Bag Review

Western Mountaineering Highlight Sleeing BagA Dream Sleeping Bag for Lightweight Backpackers

The Western Mountaineering HighLite sleeping bag, a mere 16 ounces that is rated for 35 degrees, is my personal choice for a lightweight bag.The HighLite comes with a tiny waterproof stuff sack, making it suitable for the smallest lightweight backpack, and a larger storage bag so the 850+ goose down fill can breathe uncompressed. The half-length zipper is part of the lightweight design.

While rated for 35 degrees, you can extend its temperature rating by 15 to 20 degrees by wearing a jacket, long johns, heavy socks and sleeping in a tent. So, this Spring-Summer weight bag will see you through three seasons. Especially if you have a well insulated ground pad.

My Highlite is four seasons old and still in perfect condition. While I do try to take care of my gear, the manufacturing quality of this made-in-the-USA bag no doubt has much to do with it.

HighLite’s Attractive Cousins

The Highlite is part of the Western Mountaineering ExtremeLite series of bags which all are two pounds or less. In addition to the HighLite, you might consider these bags as well:

At just 1 lb 3 oz., the SummerLite is the lightest bag Western makes in a continuous baffle construction.

The MegaLite, at just 1 pound, 8 ounces, is cut to suit large folks so they too can enjoy the benefits of the ExtremeLite™ bags. No claustrophobia here with 64" of shoulder girth tapering to 39" at the foot. 12 ounces of goose down provides a temperature rating of 30.

The MityLite, 1 pound, 10 ounces, with a 59" shoulder girth, is rated to 20°. The full down collar helps to seal in heat around your neck without adding excess bulk and 14 oz. of high lofting down pumps this bag to 5".

Others in the ExtremeLite line:

The 14-ounce LineLite, a summer bag with a 45-degree rating, can also be used as a liner in a bigger bag, adding 15 degrees of warmth.

If money is no object, consider a second bag–I also own a Sequoia Super MF (5 degrees)—because every trip is different and the longer you extend your season, the more likely it is you’ll need additional gear.

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

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What Does Lightweight Mean?

Lightweight backpacking for beginnersIt’s All About Fuel

I recently tested a new line of foods (Chef 5 Minute Meals) and had been intrigued by claims that each meal is only 9 ounces, requires no refrigeration and comes with a built-in oven (no heat source required), knife, spork (spoon-fork), napkin and salt and pepper.

At 9 ounces, given all these benefits, a lightweight backpacker would give these a try.

Since I don't trust manufacturer weights, I pulled out my trusty postal scale and weighed the box and all its contents. Guess what? It weighs 17 ounces. What weighs 9 ounces is the actual food. The box and wrappings make up another 8 ounces,  essentially doubling the weight.

This is true for so much gear. For tents, especially. Manufacturers give fast-packing weight (the weight with only the fly and floor or ground cloth, sans tent) and minimum weight (stuff sack, stakes, tent and fly).

Seems like everyone plays games with weight, especially those claiming their products to be lightweight.

The lesson: analyze weight claims carefully and don't be afraid to take your scale to the store to weigh things before you buy.

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

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Batteries Not Includes … And None Needed

The problem with all flashlights and headlamps is that they run on batteries and batteries wear out. And, they often wear out at the least convenient time — like nighttime when you're trying to cook dinner in the dark or finding your way around camp on a moonless night.

I've found a lightweight (4 ounce) answer to this problem: the multi-function By Shaking W/ 5 LED flashlight which doubles as an emergency cell phone power source.

For the flashlight, you crank the handle for one minute and you get to up 20 minutes of full-power light (5 LED's). The light is extremely bright.

You Have a Choice

You have a choice of turning on 1, 2 or 5 LED's so you could extend the light well past 20 minutes. But when it runs out, just crank 1 minute and you've got another 20 minutes of light.

For the cell phone, the manufacturer claims 3 minutes of charging with the hand crank will give you 2 to 8 minutes of talk time (I did not test it). The unit comes with adapters for various cell phones.

Some might consider a 4-ounce light a stone compared with lighter headlights. But, the advantage, of course is eliminating the need for batteries. On a long trip, that could save a lot of weight by eliminating batteries. I always carry backups, however: two Photon II mini-lights (a fraction of an ounce) attached to a lanyard around my neck that includes identification and a whistle.

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

Related post: Forever Flashlight review 

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