Tag Archives: backpacking

Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips, a somewhat biased review

Get the book, go lighter.

I know Mike Clelland, he’s a friend, a mentor, and a pal.  We’ve hiked together and collaborated quiet a bit on various lightweight projects over the last six or seven years.  So here’s the deal.  Mike sent me a copy of this book.  Now, you might think that I would give him a swell review just because he hooked me up, but the truth is Mike’s got it right. You see, Mike see’s things differently than most folks.

Mike Brews up an a quick trip into the mountains in Alaska

This should be apparent from the awesome illustrations he draws that accurately depict technical details with humor and levity.  It goes beyond that though.  It goes beyond drawing a happy hiker with some neat trick of ultralight backpacking and some little boing marks.  Mike gets it.  He draws stuff he knows, whether climbing, skiing, mountaineering or ultralight backpacking.  And he’s always trying to understand it all better.  I have met few in the ultralight game who have put as much thought and trial into their system as Mike.  When it comes to influencing the hiking world to go lighter, it is easily argued that Mike C! has had as large an impact as anyone. Mike has taken the admittedly geeky world of lightweight and made it accessible to the common (wo)man.

His lightweight illustrations, first in Lighten Up! and now in his own book Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips have been a gateway to lightweight backpacking for the masses, he also scouted, proposed and championed the lightweight backpacking program at NOLS and has taught lightweight courses for NOLS and Backpacking Light.

He has inspired me to go lighter, and along the way I have been able to help him in small ways, like our common interest in the coffee system (tip #129 – we spent a fun afternoon weighing various coffee devices and brew methods).  My lightest trip ever has been with Mike, our packs both weighed in at 7.98 lbs for an overnight trip with stove, shelter, and two cooked meals.  It is Mikes desire to share what he has learned that makes his book so effective.  He uses his amazing talent for illustration to remind us that this backpacking stuff is supposed to be fun.

That’s the biggest selling point of this book.  It’s downright fun to read.  This makes the wackier of ideas (like #54 Make your own toothpaste dots, which work really well and are a great way to bring just enough paste.) easier to buy into and try out.  You can laugh at the cute drawing, and ponder the wisdom behind the tip.  With the tip format, Mike has allowed the reader to try different techniques on different trips with no need to do everything at once, fully engaging in my favorite tip, #6 Try something new every time you go camping.  A great model for learning by doing.

Whether your a pro lightweight explorer or just getting into the game, this book is bound to give you some new ideas to get out and try on your next trip.  It is a beautiful call to action to get out, travel lighter and learn by doing.

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Filed under backcountry, backpacking, lightweight, Outdoors, Reviews, ultralight, wilderness

Fire in the mountains

The Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler Review

As a tinkerer of gear, I really get excited when someone else goes for it and decides to build something they want that doesn’t exist.  In the case of Devin Montgomery that something was a wood fired boiler small and light enough to take backpacking in an ultralight style.  The entire story and evolution, from brainstorming and crowdsourcing design, to prototyping and ultimately production can be found at Devin’s excellent blog The Boilerwerks which describes the trials and tribulations and success of developing this unique device.

The Backcountry Boiler uses the chimney effect to quickly boil water.

One of the things that I like the most is that this was truly a project based on learning by doing.  Almost every step of the process was a new adventure for Devin.  In the end he produces a unique, high quality, functional and simple piece of equipment that works well.

The Backcountry Boiler is elegant in design and function.  It allows a backpacker to go with out fuel by burning found fuels along one’s route. The system consists of two basic parts needed to function and three light accessories; the boiler proper and the support or burner base, a heat resistant sleeve that allows the user to pick the boiler directly off the flame with bare hands, a small silicone stopper and a simple sil-nylon stuff sack that it can store in.

Weighing in at 8.8 oz complete on my scale, the boiler is heavier than some alcohol stoves but in the same weight class as many other wood burners.  Here’s where it makes up for the couple extra ounces over other systems: no need to carry fuel.  In addition, the boiler itself can be used as a water bottle with the included stopper!  By paring the kit down, the weight of the stove can be reduced even further.  Leave behind the stuff sack and you come in at 7.9 oz, the stopper and you are at 7.3, and just the boiler and the fire pan leave you with a svelte 7 oz. system.

The Boiler is made from spun, hard anodized aluminum, providing a more rigid construction when compared to titanium sheet.  This material also allows for good heat transfer and an acceptable weight in the ultralight stove category.

Wind makes the boiler burn hotter, and can be controlled by simply turning the intake in the base into or out of the breeze.

In field use, the Boiler proves to be surprisingly fast.  Boiling two cups (16oz./500ml) of water multiple times per day over six days on a NOLS Lightweight Backpacking Course, I consistently had boil times of 5 minutes or less at altitudes between 8000-10,000 feet, often using frigid water.  This volume of water is ideal for “boil in a bag” type meals, and is my preferred volume for hot drinks as well.  It’s important to note that the boiler doesn’t actually boil your food in the boiler its self, but boils the water to be added to your dehydrated meal in either a bag designed for this, or another container, perhaps your titanium mug.

This may be the only drawback to the boiler.  People who cook, rather than rehydrate meals will find the boiler unsuitable.

How it works

The boiler functions on the simple chimney effect.  A small fire is built in the burner base using tinder with the boiler already in place, though in practice I found it easier to light the fire and then place the boiler on the base.  Be sure that the stopper is not plugging the water fill hole, or the vessel could explode.

unburned fuel after a double boil

Once the fire is going and your filled boiler is on the base, turn the hole in the base into the wind, or if a really calm day you may need to blow into the hole.  Feed the boiler through the chimney in the top, I found that using sticks no bigger around than my somewhat meaty pinky or ideally about pencil diameter worked well.

The sticks should also be broken to a length no longer than the top of the burner to reduce flame height which results in wasting fuel.  On average, I could boil my two cups using just one handful of sticks.  For reference, when I hold my finger tips together in a circle, the diameter is about an inch and a half, but I have big hands.

The boiler burns very hot, so with small sticks as fuel there is very little ash, and once cold to the touch, the ash can easily be scattered to the wind.  Any partially burned sticks will be so small they will disappear in the environment, just be sure they are fully extinguished.

One of the great things about the boiler is that it can burn all most any type of combustible solid.  I even burned a piece of dried cow patty one night with no problems at all.  Grass, sticks, paper, cardboard, basically anything that can burn.  Devin even ships the Boiler in burnable packaging along with a tea bag and an instant coffee so you can try it right away, pretty cool.  There is also a wick system available to burn denatured alcohol, which would be useful above tree line or in areas that have mixed fire regulations like canyons.

For people cooking one pot, just add water meals, or “boil in a bag” food, the ability to travel without fuel is an unquestionable advantage in the field.  The Backcountry Boiler is an efficient, Eco-friendly (burns renewable fuels!) stove system that evolves the lightweight kit to the next level.

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Filed under Fabrication, Outdoors, Reviews