Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lightweight Collapsible Spoon

I received a lot of comments about my recent blog regarding my Trail Designs Sidewinder cooking system. Apparently, there are a lot of you out there in bloggerland who share the same affinity I do for simple and lightweight cooking systems that are flexible and take up little space.
A question I received several times was about what kind of utensil (spoon) I used with the system as the inference was that my entire cooking kit fit inside the 900ml cup. Well, in the the past I used the Backpacking Light long handled titanium spoon which I really liked and continue to use quite often. I have yet to find another option lighter than 10oz for a long-handled titanium spoon. Unfortunately, it doesn't compress at all, so therefore I can't really carry it inside the Sidewinder system because the diameter of the pot isn't wide enough. Initially I just hooked it to the outside of my pack or put it in another pocket, but I found it a bit annoying to try to hunt it down and the risk of losing, damaging it, or misplacing it seemed to grow exponentially.
With that, I searched for another option which could fit inside my 900ml pot. Initially, I switched between a short-handled titanium spoon and/or a spork, but didn't really like either principally because the shortened length caused me to put more of my hand into my boil-in-a-bag meals which was both not terribly sanitary and a bit messy being that I always needed to wash my hands afterwards. Bugs also seemed to have a field day and it wasn't an option for gloves being that my finger and knuckles often dragged inside the bag.
The option I'm currently using is an expandable spoon made by JetBoil ( which can generally be found at most camping stores for anywhere from $5-$15 depending if you purchase just the spoon or the entire three piece set (spoon, fork, and spatula). The spoon expands from 5.2" when closed to 8.5" when open and it weighs just a single gram more than the BPL spoon (11g) which is still lighter than most other long handled spoons. And yes, it collapses enough to fit in my pot which was the goal. MSR makes a very similar option (same weight, price, materials), but it folds down instead of retracting which I didn't feel was as stable. REI makes a titanium spoon that retracts (same weight, double the price), but it only expanded to 6.5" (although it collapsed to just 3.5") and I felt the extra two inches I gained from the JetBoil spoon were a better option.
Although I'd rather have titanium and cleaning it is a little more cumbersome because food does get caught into the expandable sections, it works just fine otherwise.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Confession: I own a Kindle 2.

Anyone who reads this blog or hikes with me knows that I'm not a huge fan of technology in the wilderness. I think phones are mostly unreliable and serve as dead weight while headphones often distract from the wilderness experience and can even create a dangerous situation if, for example a cracking branch is an unheard warning of a forthcoming head injury or an unnoticed growl is an indication of pending unlawful carnal knowledge by wildlife. Yes, I'll acknowledge that they are nice to have in an emergency and headphones are fun to use while trying to sleep. Sure an eBook on the smallest iPOD is really weight negligible as a whole, so these things have their place.
Recently I picked up the latest generation of Amazon's Kindle 2 eBook reader ( for school and general reading while traveling. At 8.5oz for so much frill, it's tough not to make the mental leap for backpacking.
The latest Kindle (third generation despite being called the Kindle 2) is a pretty neat piece of technology, although it does have the look and feel of an early generation Atari where the iPAD runs circles around it in sheer attractiveness and function. But, the Kindle is $139 whereas a similar iPAD is $700+ and significantly heavier.

Right now I have 89 books on my Kindle which is capable of holding 3,500 electronic books each which download is less than 60 seconds. For this abundance of literature, I spent about $15 because all but 5 were completely free. In fact, of the five I purchased, one was $10 while the other four were less than $1. Amazon offers over 15,000 free books, many which are classics (Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice, Red Badge of Courage, etc.). I also found several books by John Muir and Henry David Thoreau which was wonderful being that I have brought those kinds of books with me on non-backpacking trips merely to keep the outdoor memory alive while otherwise swamped in an increasingly concrete world. I found it interesting to note that in the long list of free books, nature books and religion books dominated much of the landscape (in addition to the classics). These two themes have always sat at the same table for me personally, so I guess it doesn't surprise me to see these topics related in this sense.
The battery life on the Kindle is absurd too: 3 weeks with the wireless function on or an entire month with the wireless function off.
It comes with a dictionary, highlighting function, notes function, bookmark function, text-to-speech (fun to use when tired of reading, when driving, or when desirous of romantic whisperings from a semi-robotic voice). It also has a very crude web-interface which is frustrating to use, but functional (well, barely functional). With the optional 3G unit, this might be a novel accessory for someone on the go if they could use it to send e-mails too, especially if the battery life is so impressive.
Overall, I must admit that I really like it despite very obvious and numerous flaws. It's basically early technology for this kind of thing and I guess I am willing to accept the remedial handling, not perfect layout, and design flaws that make it far from the amazing technologies we have in our modern society because in bulk it is just an electronic book and handles that function just fine.
With that said, I continue to be biased about technology in the wilderness because often I think it is impractical, but it does have some benefits much like the Kindle. With that, I admit that as a solo backpacker uninterested in hiking from sun up to sun down every day to check my wherewithal against high-thigh chaffing as I fly by the very sights I want to spend time to see - I have brought my Kindle with me while backpacking and found the extra 8.5 ounces to be (most of the time)...wonderful.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Behold....The Sidewinder

As many of you know, I have a love affair of my Titanium Ti-Tri cooking system which I purchased from Titanium Goat ( but inspired and designed by Trail Designs ( Now that Trail Designs has the ability to work with titanium, they sell both aluminum versions and titanium versions of their famous cooking cones.

The reason I love the Ti-Tri is fairly simple: it cooks with esbit, with alcohol, and with wood. It provides me with wonderful peace of mind to know that if I run out of whatever fuel I'm carrying that I can just forage and likely find a suitable replacement. It is also the best windscreen on the market because it encompasses the pot completely being that it also serves as a very stable pot stand.

My only real gripe with the Ti-Tri was that the cone was long and required some kind of lightweight sleeve to carry it. Even then, it took up a little too much pack space for my preference.

Knowing that this was probably an issue for other backpackers, Trail Designs recently came out with their "Caldera Sidewinder Ti-Tri Titanium Cone System" ( which offers a stouter cone capable of fitting in a 600ml, 900ml, or 1300ml pot. Essentially, the cone is the diameter of the pot and they package it in a tyvek sleeve. Trail Designs will also make one to other sizes, as long as the diameter of the pot is reasonable enough.
To me, this is an ideal cooking system because the pack size of my whole cooking kit is just the stove itself and I get all the benefits of my longerTi-Tri system.
Because I already had the gram weenie esbit stove (3 grams) and the two extra stakes which allow for wood burning, I only had to purchase the cone and the pot (with lid). Unfortunately, good gear is pricey. The cone alone was $45 (36 grams) and the Evernew Titanium 900ml pot was $53 (100 grams) which came with a lid (37 grams). The tyvek sleeve which holds the cone is 1 gram and likely won't last too long because it is a very tight fit on the inside of the pot when the cone is in it. This may also cause problems for the non-stick surface. I am strongly considering using a pot without the special coating for this reason, and because it shaves a small bit of weight (20 grams). I'm also thinking of swapping out the lid for some heavy duty tinfoil or something equally light to further cut out unnecessary weight.
I almost always carry a 900ml pot or cup because it is a perfect size for my needs. For example, using freezer-bag cooking options, I generally need around two cups of boiled water for a meal. A 900ml cup can hold more than three. So, I pour off two cups into my meal to hydrate it and add some tea mix to the rest of the cup and can have a hot meal and hot beverage together without wasting time or effort. This system also brings 3 cups to a boil on only one esbit. Beautiful.
Although one could use a lighter system overall, like tinfoil for a windscreen, and aluminum pot, and the Backpackinglight Esbit wing stove ( (which can also be purchased from places like Gander Mountain and others), the Sidewinder system offers a more robust option that will likely last substantially longer.
If you've got the cash and you like getting packages with a Yosemite mailing address which include a free Trail Designs rubber wristband, consider this option.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ultralight Cat Hole Tool

It's been discussed before, to include on my blog (, but I wanted to briefly mention a new tool I found to dig a cat hole. Yes, we're going to talk about taking a crap in the woods boys and girls.

As many of you likely know by now, my personal belief is that going lightweight doesn't mean being personally stupid nor irresponsible towards the environment. I feel it is the intrinsic obligation, duty, and responsibility of a backpacker to be a good steward of the environment even if it means taking a few extra steps (or extra pieces of undesired gear) to keep nature as pristine (and ecologically safe) as possible. This includes when "self-evacuating".

So yes, you can dig a hole with a stick or a rock and leave a more conventional shovel or digging tool at home. To me though, I'm not really interested in playing a game of beat-the-clock with an old school digging stick which may or may not be immediately capable of digging a decent hole 6-8" down. If it fails, all you do is spoil the environment and likely cause grief for the flora and fauna of the area. So with that, I support bringing some kind of digging utility.

As with anything carried by a lightweight backpacker, my goal is to find the lightest option if I feel I need to carry it. In the past, the most responsible and lightest hole-digging tool I used was the Montbell Handy Scoop (1.4 oz, 6.5", $8), which I still think is a great tool. Other options were either too bulky or I just couldn't dig a decent hole with them.

Many UL'ers have suggested using a tent stake, like the MSR Groundhog or a winter tent stake which has a much more robust scoop. Well, I've found it is tough to dig a good hole with the Groundhog principally because it is three-sided and a winter tent stake is just too big and heavy.

I happened to be in Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) the other day, just snooping around, and came across a brand of tent stake I hadn't heard of before - "DAC". EMS sold a 7" "V" tent aluminum tent stake by DAC which was $1.30 ( for a variety of colors and weighed a mere .5 ounces (14 grams). The length is a little longer than similar stakes and the "V" is a little wider. As a result, I've had some success digging holes in my backyard with it and plan to use it as a replacement for my Montbell Handy Scoop which is substantially heavier. And as a nice expected bonus, I can use it as a tent stake in a pinch (one which would likely need to be beaten into place with a rock unless the ground is very soft).

If you're looking for a digging tool, give it a shot. I decided to tie a piece of shock (elastic) cord to the end of mine. In the past, I kept my digging tool in a plastic bag with my toilet paper merely to keep it all together, but the tool was usually dirty and soiled (or stabbed) the toilet paper. With the shock cord, I can put the toilet paper in a plastic bag and cinch the stake around it on the outside with the shock cord to keep it all together without spoiling the toilet paper. And yes, I carry toilet paper.....most of the time. What can I say, my butt prefers it over a nice abrasive pine cone.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

TRIP REPORT: AT & South River Falls (SNP)

Responding to reader requests to post more trip reports, I figured I'd casually mention a 20-mile hike I recently did off the Appalachian Trail and in the South River Falls area of Shenandoah National Park. I personally have a tough time with most trip reports because I find them a bit silly to discuss the act of hiking or seeing this or that when pictures do such a better job of illustrating the point. Course, everyone doesn't bring a camera with them and often the great pictures are missed because of poor lighting, camera problems, user problems, or limited windows of opportunity to snap the perfect picture. Personally, I have a pretty remedial Sony camera which I'd love to upgrade, but just haven't found one that is small enough, lightweight enough, and high-performance enough to make the switch. I have a "professional" Nikon camera, but I'm not about to lug that backpacking.

So for what it's worth, I figured I go into a couple of random thoughts for those of you that like this sort of thing. First off, despite the weather being miserable for a good majority of the summer, I found the mountain temperatures to be completely and totally welcoming. Hiking in the middle of the week ensured I'd be alone on the trail, which I was, but it also ensured my face would be reluctantly thrown into duty as the trail magnet for at least 40 spiderwebs. One of the reasons I use trekking poles is to clear out spiderwebs and my Tilley hat also helped forgo eating most of them, "most".

I think the thing that always surprises me when hiking is that there is always so much to see when there is really nothing to see. In the middle of summer, few things (plants or animals) really want to come out and play. And yet, the views are still amazing, the water is still pristine, and guess what, there are plenty of plants and animals that make an appearance if you take the time to look.

On this trip, I was continually surprised at the number of small things that I would blow by if not paying attention. Whether it be a simple slug crossing the trail, a field mouse oblivious to a giant hiker close enough to pat it on the head, a garter snake basking in the sun, endless butterflies carelessly floating around, brilliantly colored caterpillars, and wood frogs that figure they can blend into the environment if they sit still enough, it all makes for a plenty fine outing in my book.

In my neck of the woods, I think it is fair to say these critters are common. Equally common are deer and black bear. I've actually hand-fed apples to deer in the same area many times in the past as apples trees are scattered throughout the mountains and the deer are infinitely familiar with human visitors taking in the views. Although it is not the smartest choice to combat the urban-wildlife interface by feeding wild animals which can create a problem, it does create memories to last a lifetime.

Since people like to hear about bears, I figured I'd mention them. I came across two adolescents on the second day of my trip after seeing plenty of scat and fully assuming I'd see one. I think in general, I come across a bear around 50%-75% of my hiking adventures. Unfortunately, apparently I am woefully stupid because I don't own bear spray and quite honestly I am not a model citizen around bears. I find them fascinating, so I get too close and often invade their personal space. This has twice resulted in being charged. If you've never been charged by a bear of any size, here are a couple things I'll tell you. First, it is scary as hell. Take whatever machismo you think you have and toss it right out the window. By the way, they can run much faster than you and can climb a tree about as quick as you can blink. The theory of showing the bear that you are boss and standing your ground turns quickly instead into a grown man damn near peeing his pants and acting like a school girl. The snorting and aggressive demeanor coupled with the raising of back hair the the showing of teeth very quickly helps a human understand they aren't nearly as close to the top of the food chain as they think. AND YET, despite this illustration and my stupidity, my interaction with bears has always been otherwise uneventful (meaning I didn't get killed or injured) with exception to perhaps a few undesired pee stains.

This is a video of a bear I came across which I had very little time to react. Just as I grabbed my camera and started shooting, I realized I was standing on the intersection of my trail and an animal trail. As I'm evaluating my options and fully believing I was about to surprise a bear walking towards me paying attention to everything but me, sure enough I watched the bear turn slightly and start heading my way. I slowly start reacting which included taking a step to get off the intersecting trail and the sound of my movement startled the bear immediately as the video shows him high-tailing it out of sight.

Because I'm a gear guy, I'll mention that I was wearing a pair of Simblissity Leva Gaiters which I wrote about previously. I really like the fact that they don't have a cord on the bottom and can stay reasonably secure around my shoe. This trip I also found that the water-repellent treatment worked quite well.

By the way, if anyone has any better way of displaying pictures, I'll be happy to switch. I've tried other options and I don't like it. I may actually switch this blog to an entirely different format (WordPress) as the auto formatting of these blog templates and limited control has been testing my good-natured "jolly-ness" for quite awhile.

Anyway, happy trails.