Sunday, 27 March 2011

Wood Cook Stove

I had planned to do a couple video reviews of some equipment I use but the weather refused to cooperate with me (howling wind and blowing snow).  The reviews will come but for this update a simple picture log will have to suffice.

I very much like the idea of cooking on a wood stove, especially in the summer where melting snow isnt as much of a priority.  I was torn between a Vargo Hex or a Bushbuddy but considering I had some Ti sheet stock left over from a damper I built for my wood tent stove I decided to try and build something similar.

I use the GSI minimalist for my cooking and I wanted the stove to fit inside the pot, and still hold all my other cooking gear (spoon, pot supports, fire starter, pot holder).  Here you can see the pot packed with the stove and cooking implements.

I did not take into account the rounded bottom of the pot and as such the stove body prevents the lid from snapping on securely.  I was going to simply shorten the stove slightly but plan on building a stuff sack for it anyways to keep my pack clean so I'll leave it for now.

I always have my firesteel with my pack but I also like to keep a small vial of matches and strikers (orange waterproof case).

Here is the stove assembled and ready for wood.  There is a #8 stainless steel mesh suspended between the bottom vent holes and the upper vent holes...probably not needed but keeps you from marking the ground and lets the fire breath better.  The two upper rods are aluminum and rest in small cut outs, they let the pot sit much more stable and allow for greater airflow.  The large cutout was added after the first burn to help vent smoke faster...without the cutout the fire had a tendency to snuff itself out when a pot was placed ontop.  If you place the opening facing the wind you can easily add wood to the fire without removing the pot and without getting smoke in your face, always a nice feature.

Due to its single wall construction your not going to get the wood gas burning effect like you would with a bush buddy...but this was also free and I cant complain about free.  During the winter this stove will take about 12min to bring a full pot of snow to a boil (which equates to just under a cup of water).  I have yet to test it in the summer with room temperature water but I would expect ~10 - 15min for a rolling boil under moderate wind.

The total weight of this setup (minus the match case) comes in at 266g.  I really enjoy this setup as it seems to work very well and is quite inexpensive to setup ($2 in Ti sheet stock from my local metal dealer and the GSI minimalist was around $20 CAN).

If your looking to make your own wood burning stove, there is a great thread over here about using an ikea cutlery caddy.  Works quite well with an MSR Titian kettle or other similar sized pot.

I am expecting my GoLite quilt sometime this week along with some smartwool socks.  I do plan to do an initial 'unboxing' review just to post my first impressions and should be able to follow up later in the year with a full on field tested review (the quilt will be my spring/summer/fall sleeping system).

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Update So Far

As of late I have been added a blog post every night and sometime multiple posts.  I have quite a few photographs that have been take of past projects and wish to try and develop a timeline of when I was doing certain things.  I plan to keep updating this blog on a near daily bases even once I cover all my stock piled material...I also plan on keeping each post filled with photos/videos.

Fuzzy legged dawn deer
A few weeks ago I had to make my way back into the city quite early so I decided to take the opportunity to go for a short hike up a large hill and watch the sunrise before making my commute back into town (I work and live in the city but spend most weekends in the country).  This is a photo of a family of 7 deer.  I watched them walk a few minutes before quietly pulling out my camera, once they knew I wanted a picture they increased their speed into the bushes.  A combination of low ISO and the fact that deer move made for a little ghosting here and there.
After watching the deer disappear into the trees I stepped into my snowshoes and made the short trek up the hill to watch the sunrise.

From atop this hill I was able to see the original 7 deer walking across another field followed by another group of 3 more.  Inbetween the 2 groups there were also 3 coyotes that seemed to be taking advantage of the trail the deer were creating (they didn't seem to interested in the deer at this time, quite well fed by the looks of it).
This is also about the mid way point of a frozen creek that I plan on packrafting come summer.  Usually the water level is very low but due to the large volume of snow we accumulated this year the spring melt should turn the little creek into a faster moving river which should make for a nice ~20km trip.

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Monday, 21 March 2011

Tyvek DuoMid Clone

Before I decided to sew my Tyvek backpack I tried my hand at some tape sealed tents.  I had planned on using Tyvek tape to join sections of the fabric together but as my local sources did not stock the tape I used double sided carpet tape to make my seams.  Here is the 2nd tent I designed off of the MLD Duomid.

Tyvek Tent
As you can probably tell by now I get a lot of enjoyment out of making my own gear.  I read a great post over on the backpacking light forum where one gentlemen said something along the lines of when we are young we spend our time making things, as we get older and get jobs, we get money to buy what we once used to make.  I saw the lines of the duomid and I wanted it...I just didnt want to fork over the cash for the tent (which is no slight on MLD, they make great gear)!

One of the other main reasons I decided to build a tyvek tent was the fact that I could make 2 or 3 of the same tent for a few bucks.  Over the winter my Golite 3 was a great tent to use along with my wood stove.  The only problem is that silnylon melts quite easily and tears when punctured.  Both of these issues are avoided as much as possible by installing spark screens on my wood stoves and by watching the ground for jagged sticks before setting up.  Depsite these measures I managed to burn a couple holes into the golite.  Although once repaired they dont have any negative physical effects I'm somewhat of a perfectionist.  I dont want a nice (expensive) tent covered in patches.  The simple solution was to build a few tents, once one gets weathered and tattered simply recycle the parts I can and put a new tent into use.

Main door flap open
These tyvek tents cost me about $5 each to build.  The one pictured above is a nearly completed unit.  I initially designed it to have a floor area of 9'x5' with a center pole height of 42" but I measured wrong when I cut the ends so I ended up making the tent slightly smaller with dimensions of 8'x4' with center height of 42".  The tent is designed to be pitched with one off center trekking pole and a minimum of 4 stakes.  I use 6 stakes to peg the tent firmly to the ground and seal the edges well.

Pitched with hiking pole
The weight breakdown of the tent in the pictured state is as follows:

Tyvek Tent - 397g
6 Tent Stakes - 73g

I could probably drop the weight of the main tent body by 50-100g by sewing all the seams as opposed to taping them and its something I may try in the future.  Since I intend on using this tent in the winter I plan to add a fireproof stove jack near the peak for my stove pipe to exit.  Initially I was concerned that tyvek might flare up or melt from excessive heat so I flame tested a section of tyvek and a section of silnylon and found no obvious difference.  I also looked at the temperature required to initiate a sustained burn of tyvek and once again it is in the range of silnylon.  Should a stray spark manage to land upon the surface of the tent it will either blow off without damage or melt a small hole at the worst.

Perfect for a 6' slim guy
With the pole canted to one side there is more then enough room for my winter sleep system.  During the winter I will pitch the tent another inch or 2 higher and use snow around the bottom of the tent to make a nice weather seal.  This will give me a little more internal space and should allow for the addition of my newest micro wood stove to fit without getting to close to the walls or my sleeping bag.

Yours truly pondering
The tent has just enough headroom to allow me to sit up comfortably, while this isnt a requirement for my summer shelters I like to be able to sit inside a warm tent in the winter and pack my gear, prepare food or just warm up.
There are still a few small modifications I would like to make to this tent before trying it out (sew some extra support into the tie offs, place a few stitches at the top of the door seam and modify the door flap with an overhang to keep driving rain or snow from blowing inside.  I may have some updates on this tent over the summer but I will primarily be using my new tarp shelter for summer use...which should be arriving quite soon.

Backpacks Part 2

Continuing onwards we have 2 of my more specialty backpacks.
Deuter Race EXP Air
The EXP Air is my pack I use while pedaling away on my freeride bike.  During the summer months I commute to work via my bike and I needed a light pack that would carry a small water bladder as well as lunch and a pair of clean clothes.  With my past camelbak riding packs I always got a sweaty back especially during the summer hill climbs in our local river valley.  This pack is the first pack I have used that has an aluminum frame which holds the entire bag off of your back to allow air to circulate as you can see below.

Mesh back panel between the main bag section and shoulder strap
This works amazingly well at mitigating the sweaty back problem but it does add a little extra weight to the pack registering at 920g.  Due to the supportive mesh back and padded hip straps the pack carries amazingly well and even holds tight while running.  While not nearly as rugged as the falcon II it sees alot of use in the summers as a light day pack or as a decent sized pack for a multi day stretch into the wild.  While not water proof the pack has a cover that is stowed at the base for wet weather.  I've been caught in the rain a few times and I can assure you the cover is easy to deploy and works very well (although it is bright "shoot me yellow"...which I'll say is a good thing in this case if you plan on riding with traffic once and a while).

My last pack is more of a proof of concept model.  Its a homemade pack constructed entirely of tyvek building wrap.

Tyvek Pack
Using plans found on Backpacking Light I decided to try my hand a a truly ultralight pack.  I used the general dimensions from the plans and resigned the pockets to follow the lines of the beautiful Laufburshe Huckepack (an excellent review of the Huckepack can be found over here).  I salvaged the shoulder straps from an older pack and did all of the sewing by hand.  Seams that would be under high strain I taped together with double sided carpet tape before sewing.  All thread ends were soaked in cyanoacrylate and the seams inside were doubled over and taped flush with fiber reinforced packing tape.  Once the pack was complete I turned the unit inside out and added a roll top closure system to help with water proofing.  After all is said and done the weight came out to 264g, which is quite respectable for a pack of this size.  Tyvek is a neat material as its essentially water proof but will let vapor pass thru.  The fibers in the material also have no bias so tears are less likely in comparison to silnylon.
Seeing as I just recently finished this pack I haven't had a real chance to test it.  It was designed to carry ~10Kg of gear and I can attest to the fact that it will hold 10Kg...however I have yet to see how bouncing down the trail will treat the seams.  Getting a frameless bag to sit right on your back is a bit harder then a framed back so I designed the bag to use a foam sleeping pad as a "frame" of sorts.

Pad Attachment loops
You can see down both the left and right of the pack I have sewn in elastic loops.  The plan is to run shock cord thru the loops in a double X pattern to secure a Z-Lite pad behind the shoulder straps to support the bag.  I have yet to try this but I will post an update once I do some further testing on this bag but for one of my first hand sewn projects I am quite happy with how it has turned out.  Tyvek is a wonderful material to work with.  Its readily available at most home improvement stores, its inexpensive and its quite durable.  I've built quite a few things from tyvek which I will elaborate more on in the near future.

The fleet

Backpacks Part 1

Rounding off my current big 3 we come to the backpacks.  As my girl friend has said, backpacks to me are what shoes are to her or in other words, I have many backpacks.

The North Face Terra 65
The Largest and heaviest pack of my fleet is the Terra 65.  Its an internal frame pack with an all up weight of 2304g.  I primarily bought the pack to hold my winter sleeping bag when hiking in the winter. I was able to purchase the bag on sale for 50% off...and it was one of the only packs I found that wasn't "shoot me yellow" or another wild color.  Although a brightly colored pack may be great in a rescue situation I prefer the more subdue tones.  The pack carries great with the load lifting straps and has a very comfortable belt strap as well as an internal pocket that will hold a 2-3 liter water bladder.  The trekking pole holders do an adequate job and the size is just right for me needs.  All around a nice rugged, inexpensive pack that I'm not afraid to thrash thru the trees with.

Maxpedition Falcon II
Next is my every day carry pack the Falcon II.  This thing is TOUGH!  Weighing 1378g its quite heavy for its size but thats due to its over the top construction.  The entire pack is fashioned out of extra heavy cordura and all seams are double stitched with extra attention paid to high stress points.  I carry this bag daily as it functions as my bug out bag (B.O.B).  I also use this bag as my day pack when I'm heading out for a more technical hike.  The pack sees plenty of use geocaching where encounters with rocks, sticks and trees are very common.  During the winter months this is my pack I wear snowshoeing, its ridiculous amounts of molle webbing and straps allow me to easily attach my snowshoes to the side or belt in my trekking poles.  The pack details can be found on the maxpedition website so I will not go too indepth with the size information.  Normally this pack is loaded with about 4.5Kg of weight and usually carries my 2.5L MSR dromedary water bladder.  The pack carries well...its not nearly as comfortable as my terra 65 but it gets the job done.  I've used this on one overnight hike in the winter and while I did need to strap a lot of the gear to the outside (no chance my -20 bag is fitting in here) it worked out well.

I've slid down frozen gravel hills on this pack, I've caught it on numerous tree limbs and I've tossed it around a good deal in and out of my jeep and it has zero signs of wear after 3/4yr. of use.  If your looking for a bullet proof day pack and dont mind the extra weight you'd be hard pressed to find something better.  They also make larger packs but since their gear is more military orientated expect over engineered construction and heavy silnylon or cuben fiber here.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Winter Sleep System

Sleeping Bag, air pad and ground sheet
Since I stated with a brief introduction of my tent for winter camping I better move thru the rest of the big 3 I use in the cold weather, next up is the sleeping setup.

My winter sleep system is a MEC -20 Hybrid sleeping bag, a Big Agnes air core and a tarp ground sheet.  The weight breakdown of this system are:

Bag - 2263g (incl. stuff sack)
Pad - 701g (incl. stuff sack)
Ground Sheet - 340g

The bag is a hybrid design meaning it has both synthetic and down insulation.  The bottom of the bag which is usually compressed is synthetic to try and hold some warmth (compressed down is useless in insulation properties).  The neck yokes and zipper guards are down, and the top is a layer of synthetic and a layer of down to try and move the condensation point outwards.  For the price this bag cannot be beat!  I've used it down to -27C which is about its limit for sleeping in base layers with a toque.  Wearing  my down vest and a couple pairs of socks might get me down to -30 comfortably but thats getting a little cold for fun for me.  I could save a few grams in weight and alot more bulk moving to a down bag but the much higher price point will make me stick with this for extreme cold.

Big Agnes Insulated Aircore

The pad is a aircore with insulation (primaloft).  While it dose take quite a few lung fulls of air to inflate its quite comfortable and very warm.  Although it is rated as a 3-season pad I found it to work fine down in the ice cold temperatures.  When the temperature really drops I'll place my outer layers under me before sleeping for the night to add a little insulation from the ground.  I suppose I could trim the weight by using a CCF mattress (add some bulk) with a light weight neoair mattress but for now their are easier ways to trim the excess weight and keep a small pack size.

The ground sheet...the dreaded red ground sheet of lead.  I have now replaced this sheet with a thin yet strong section  of tyvek.  A similar sized ground sheet from tyvek weight's 1/6 to 1/3 as much as the tarp does!  Not only that but a roll of tyvek is cheap and lets you build all kinds of neat backpacks ;).

Heavy Light Hiker

"Heavy" winter pack

On my very first trip into the cold climate I had a pack weight of 15Kg for an overnight outing in -25C.  While I dont consider this ultra heavy, I do consider it quite a ways off of light.  The problem I had was that I wasn't making good use of the equipment I was bringing.  Majority of the stuff I brought wasn't at all needed.  Going lighter for me was a simple matter of making more uses from single items.  Instead of bringing my pack towel and a handkerchief I left one at home.  Instead of carrying a pocket knife and packing a multi-tool and my mora fixed blade, I now only carry the mora.  Taking the large bottle of soap or tooth paste and shrinking them down to what you use in a day or 2.  Same goes for fuel, on this trip I had nearly a liter of white gas!  I may have used 1/8th of what I brought in the 2 times I fired up the gas stove (normally cook on the wood stove).  These were simple things I could change for free and while it only looks like a few grams here or there it quickly adds up!

The magic number for me is 10Kg.  If I can keep my total pack weight below the 10Kg mark I find it easy to carry yet still have redundancy on certain items I go a little heavy on (my first aid kit being one of them).


New design non-roll up mini stove

Nothing can compare to the heat you can get from a nice wood burning fireplace.  Why not bring this heat into the outdoors with you!  My very first wood burning stove and tent were both homemade/modified designs.  The tent I used was a GoLite Shangri-La 3 with a stove jack sewn into the top peak.  The stove I used was a titanium roll up stove similar in design to the stoves sold by Ti-Goat.  I bought the titanium sheet and used titanium end plates to complete the stove.  The weight breakdown was as follows:

GoLite 3 with pole (incl. stuff sack) - 1208g
Roll Up Stove - 900g

Original roll-up titanium stove
While 2.1Kg isnt exactly light its not half bad for a winter shelter...for a first try anyways.  Since my first efforts with wood heated shelters I have been able to knock nearly a kilogram off that weight, but lets not get ahead of ourselves.

First stove and tent under a setting sun


I live in Canada and as such need to deal with the cold winters and brief summers.  I've always been a fan of camping but never took the leap from car camping to full on hiking till just recently.  The challenge for me is that hauling a 60lb backpack to "enjoy" the outdoors seemed like a terrible idea.  I've read many great blogs and trip reports from many people and it seemed that less is more.  When you pack less its lighter, you sweat less, you cover more ground, and you enjoy the scenery more and completely forget whats on your back.  Trouble is winter is cold where I'm from!  Surviving -27C nights without hauling a ton of gear seemed like an uphill battle.  Hopefully over the next few posts I can explain what I use during these cold winter nights and how I keep the weight at bay.


This is a blog devoted to the hiking, biking, packrafting and basically a place where I can post pictures and video from my outtings...a way to track and archive places I've been and things I have done,  hopefully with a few little interesting stories along the way.