Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hot stuff

The weight of my pack had nothing to do with the ankle problem that required my retirement from the TGOC. Nonetheless, I’d like my pack weight to approach zero, and I’ve been noting the best ways to edge in that direction. One of the obvious areas is cooking gear.

Actually, I don’t really cook. I boil water to rehydrate prepared meals in plastic bags. This year on the Challenge I carried a JetBoil. It boils water really fast, which saves fuel, which in turn can have a variable short-term effect on load weight. Natural sloth makes me a fan of the piezo ignition. The Jet’s a well-engineered system, breaks down and stores efficiently, is not as unstable as it looks, and was designed by Dartmouth-connected guys from Northern New England. It weighs 15 oz (425 g.). Its little canisters register 3.5 oz. (100 g.) when full. Not including my long Ti spoon and plastic mug, the total package is 18.5 oz. (525 g.). I like it. I’ll certainly continue to use it often But it is much heavier than alternatives that would be reasonable for a walk like the TGOC, specifically the new breed of homemade and cottage-industry alcohol (“meths” in Britain) stoves.

I’d used the traditional small, brass, Swedish Trangia alcohol burner a few times, and recognized its attractions, but over the past few years, inventive outdoor people have been creating lighter and lighter stoves using soda cans, juice cans, cat food cans, tuna cans, and seemigly anything else mommy brought home from the store. There’s been debate over wicks vs. no wicks; size and location of ports; pot holders; windscreens; and other arcana that has given hikers excuses to touch off balls of fire on their kitchen counters. Burners have been weighed to the fraction of a gram, and boil times have been published, with much dispute about what “boiling” actually means: When do you stop the clock? How cold was the water when you started? How much wind was blowing? If any, did you use a windscreen? If so, how did you deploy it? And wonderfully on and obsessively on.

This stuff is all over the internet. (Start on WhiteBlaze and bpLite, then follow your nose) For the past few weeks I’ve been cruising the web, looking at all sorts of alcoholic offerings. Among those I found most appealing were the Caldera Cone system, the Ion Stove, and the Blackfly and Coolfly stoves from the ingenious Tinny at MiniBullDesign. The one I’ve chosen, though, is the StarLyte, from Zelph’s Stoveworks at bpLite. Very light (well under an ounce, including pot stand); simple to use, even in temps well below freezing; and spill-proof, which makes it reasonable to use in a tent if weather forces the issue. (This is useful to me, because my Stephenson Warmlite doesn’t have a vestibule.)

To boil the water in, I’ve decided to go all the way and try the wildly popular modified 24-ounce Heinekin beer can. There’s lots of info on this do-it-yourself project and possible results at the wonderfully named “Pimp my Heine” forum at bpLite. The appeal? The cool factor: it will give me the trail cred I so urgently desire, but that the size of my belly keeps denying me. Actually, it’s just the fun of joining all the other guys who are pimping their Heines...but I also wind up with a pot that comes in well under 2 ounces. Add a heavy foil windscreen, and I’ve got a personalized cooking system that saves me almost a pound.

that trail cred.


Anonymous said...

Ah, you've met Weird Darren then.

Mark, you are treading a road that can only lead to madness.

Daryl May said...


Undoubtedly due to my ignorance, I am curious about something. Do you have to use hot water to mix with dry food?

To really save weight, one would want to go with no stove. Taste be damned.

Just don't mention "no tea" to our British friends.


Mark Alvarez said...


I agree that no stove would be great, but the big weight-saver I’ve been working on is dehydrated water.


Daryl May said...

Wot a concept! Just mix the dehydrated water with water from your canteen, and the problem is solved.