Friday, August 20, 2010

The Venom Alcohol Stove

As many people know, I've been on an alcohol stove kick lately. My fascination in them lies with the fact that they're cheap and easy to make, plus who doesn't like anything having to do with fire? Anyhow, I was looking to do a little bit tougher stove out of some aluminum bottles that many beer and energy drink companies use. I wound up with a couple bottles of Venom energy drink. I would have rather had the aluminum bud light bottles to work with since I like beer a lot more than energy drinks, but I couldn't find any of the beer in aluminum bottles lately. I'm not really sure what's up with that, but the Venom bottles seem like they'll work pretty good.

The reason why I wanted to use the aluminum bottles like that is because they're thicker. As a result, they're a LOT tougher than a pop can stove. Now, I will say that there's nothing wrong with the pop can stoves. I've used the same one for several years without incident. However, as several backpackers have found out, they're not so receptive to being stepped on or handled roughly...enter the aluminum bottle stove. While I haven't done any scientific tests on any of them, the aluminum seems thick enough to withstand being jumped on and close to being ran over by a car without incident. I've discovered a way to make one that functions and is built basically the same as the traditional penny stove. They're a little bit harder to get the two pieces to fit together, but with a little coercion with a torch and some stretching of the outer piece, they will fit together quite nicely. I've got the pieces cut out now, so an update will be coming soon with the final pictures and any additional nuggets of info I might come across.

Here is a video basically showing what I'm talking about. However, since my cookpot is a bit bigger than the one he is using, I will be placing the jets on the very top.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Homemade Alcohol Stoves

A couple years ago, I posted up a little video on YouTube that basically showcased a little alcohol stove I made for backpacking. It was a variant of the classic "pop-can" stove that is especially popular with thru-hikers due to their light weight, low rate of failure, and ease of construction. To make a basic penny-stove, it only takes maybe 10 minutes as long as you have a couple pop cans, a knife, and a sewing needle. Of course, to make a nice polished and shiny one or a double wall stove like in the videos below, it takes a little more time. Either way, if you're in a pinch and need a good little stove, the ability to make one of these little gems is definitely a good skill to have.
Here's the videos for now, but stay tuned over the next couple of days for new posts containing construction details. I've got a few little things I want to try out and I've enlisted the help of my little brother in-law to help, so it should be pretty fun.
The first video is the original I posted a few years ago, the second vid is a basic how-to for the same stove. I originally got the ideas and plans from, but a lot of the links are dead now as many people have stopped contributing to the site or updating it. I want to give a little back to the alcohol stove community, so I'll try to post up a few different styles along with the basic instructions to build one for yourself. I am definitely not the only resource for these things, so get on google and search for them. There is a plethora of information out there, you just gotta dig it up. On to the videos....

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Fun at The Farm

We finally managed to get out for a night of camping in what has seemed like forever. We've been wanting to take the truck up to the pond on the farm and camp for quite some time. Daniel messaged me on Saturday morning asking if we wanted to go camping somewhere, so we loaded everything up in the truck and set up camp next to the pond. It was also our first attempt at camping with our 10 month old beagle, Lucy.

We got everything set up before dark without any real issues other than realizing the rainfly for Jess's tent had mysteriously disappeared in the 3 or 4 years since its last use. We figured it was back at the house so we went without until a little later. We finally got everything set up and that's when Lucy began coming unglued.

We drove up earlier in the day to get some firewood ready and discovered most of the downed wood was a bit damp, but I took it anyways, I've never been unable to get a fire started and I wasn't about to go without one now. I also gathered up some smaller wood and kindling that was dry. I figured while it was burning and starting a good hot base of coals, it would dry out the bigger wood enough to burn. I managed to get the fire going enough on the little stuff that it was pretty warm and spitting flaming ashed off to the side, of course Lucy had to go after them. That was the first time she had ever been around a fire, she was a little freaked out but relatively fearless for the most part. She was even so bold as to try and pick up the cool end of a few logs and drag them out of the fire to chew on them. That didn't last long once she realized the other end was on fire.

Once Lucy got bored with the fire, she would not stop trying to jump on us. The bullfrogs had her freaked out the most, but she would do a complete 360 to investigate every little noise. To top that, the grass was too tall for her to be comfortable, so she wouldn't sit down. My tough little beagle is a bona-fide priss. Nothing like a fully trained rabbit dog you'd expect her to be. We had hoped she would take to camping relatively well/quickly, especially since she loves to travel, apparently she doesn't want to have anything to do with it.

Somewhere between the whining, jumping, and general chaos she exhibited, we opted to take her back to the house for the night and come back by ourselves. If anything, for peace and quiet. We picked up the rainfly for the tent while we were at the house since there was a small chance of rain, then headed back up to the campsite. By the time we got back up there, the fire had finally caught on the bigger logs, so I didn't have to fool with gathering any more kindling and finally got to relax. We sat around the fire for a few hours, roasted marshmallows and just took in the noises that come with the night.

We finally turned in for the night around 12, the crickets and bullfrogs quickly putting us to sleep. I figured we would probably get up around daybreak, but we wound up sleeping until almost 9am, when it finally got too hot and stuffy in the tent to be any sort of comfortable. We trudged around the campsite for a little bit then got everything packed back up and took off back down to the house.

It wasn't anything truly remarkable, but it was nice to get back outdoors for a night. I miss camping and we have made a vow to get out more, especially this fall once things cool off a bit. It's cheap and one of those things you can usually do pretty much on a whim, in fact it usually works out better that way. No reservations, no check-in/out times, I could get used to that again. I think it was Robert Burns who said it first, "The best plans of men and mice often go awry." Amen to that.

Monday, August 02, 2010

My Review of MSR Titan Tea Kettle

Originally submitted at REI

If you could carry only one pot on your next technical adventure this would be purist's choice.

A Minimalist's Dream

By thelosthiker from Central Kentucky on 8/2/2010


5out of 5

Pros: Durable, Lightweight, Compact, Easy To Clean, Stable

Cons: Pricey

Best Uses: Hiking, High Altitude, Backpacking, Car Camping

Describe Yourself: Professional/Guide

What Is Your Gear Style: Minimalist

Not too long ago, I was all about carrying a big cookset along with a big liquid fuel stove. It was basically enough to cook just about anything for a good size group. The problem? I hardly ever camp with more than one or two people, and usually if there are more, they have their own stove and cookset. That being said, I opted to significantly downsize my setup. Enter the MSR Titan Kettle...

I had a Blacklite Classic cookset from MSR, but it had a few issues. It was aluminum, which (the bottom)warped over high heat. It didn't really affect the overall performance, it was just annoying. It was nonstick, which was great but began flaking off and I usually only boil water so it wasn't really necessary for me. It was huge, way too big for anything I personally needed it for. I decided to sell it and buy the lonely little Titan Kettle. It was expensive for one piece of cookware, but it came highly recommended and I knew that the titanium was significantly tougher, so it would last for a very long while.

I mostly use my stove and kettle setup for adding boiling water to my dehydrated or freeze-dried food, so the Titan works perfect for me. It's just big enough to hold a few cups of water to heat up or boil for coffee, breakfast, or dinner for my wife and I while out on the trail or in camp. Three cups is about all it can handle (safely, without water pouring out, maybe 3/4" or so from the top), so there isn't any fuel or heat wasted on heating up dead space.

I now use the thru-hikers choice for a stove, a homemade pop-can stove (search for penny stove) that runs off of denatured alcohol or HEET, along with a custom pot/kettle support made out of two bicycle spokes and some aluminum tubing. It's the perfect size for the Titan Kettle and the stove is able to heat two cups of water to boiling in around 4 minutes (give or take 30 seconds or so depending on the ambient temperature). The best part is the stove, stand, fuel, and lighter all pack neatly away inside the kettle and I don't have to worry about scratching any of the nonstick off the inside(and consuming any errant flecks of nonstick later on). The lid kind of snaps on and stays put like it should, and it has a little pour spout to keep spillage and heat loss to a minimum.

I haven't had any issues with warping the bottom even when using this kettle with a higher output gas stove like a MSR Pocket Rocket or even the super high-output Dragonfly. The only thing is it's prone to getting a little dirty on the outside from soot and normal handling, but with a little cleaning it's fine. There's no coating to worry about coming off when you clean it, so if it bothers you, by all means, scrub it clean and buff it back up.

I've packed the Titan around in my pack and used it for a little over two years now and had zero issues with it. No dents, dings, warping, etc. It does what it was built for, and it does it very well. It's tough as nails and will probably outlast all of us.

The only thing that MSR could really do to improve the Titan Kettle, would be to make the handles a bit longer. The handles can get a bit hot when cooking since they're so close to the actual body of the kettle. That can be remedied by using gloves or a bandana, but it's a bit annoying. I may try to bend up some new longer handles out of some bicycle spokes.

The bottom line, to me it's worth the investment. It's a no frills kettle that does what it should and nothing more, nothing less. It's perfect for the minimalist and the best part is it fits perfectly into a Crown Royal bag for storage! (Not really to protect it, it doesn't need it, it just cuts down on the clanking against other stuff)

The funny part is I've never used it to brew tea...


My Review of Guyot Designs Squishy Bowl and Cup Set

Originally submitted at REI

Backpacker April '07 says these ingenious bowls will ''...mash into a tiny crevice of your pack; impervious to heat, cold, and hard knocks.''

Ok Travel Bowls

By thelosthiker from Central Kentucky on 8/2/2010


4out of 5

Pros: Lightweight, Compact, Durable

Cons: Pricey, Unstable, Difficult to Clean

Best Uses: Car Camping, Backpacking

Describe Yourself: Professional/Guide

What Is Your Gear Style: Minimalist

I decided a few years ago I would give these little guys a go, and I'm pretty much indifferent about them. They're pretty tough and super packable, but can be difficult to clean and not the most stable things in the world.

I use mine more at work fixing oatmeal for breakfast than I have for camping, but that's mostly because when I camp, we usually pack up freeze dried or dehydrated food in a couple bags or tupperware containers. We usually pour the hot water in the bags or containers and eat directly from them.

The theory behind the squishy bowls is great, but they could use a little improvement. They're a bit difficult to clean sometimes (especially in the woods), especially with sticky foods, sauces, etc...and there's no real way of just sealing them off with a lid or anything. They're a bit unstable when filled with hot food and trying to move around the campsite. It's extremely easy to grip them too hard and squish the food out of the top of them. I understand you have to make a bit of a trade-off to get the flexibility, but think if they were a hair stiffer, they would be a lot more stable and still just as packable.

I think part of what bugs me too is the price. I think they're just a tad too pricey for what they are and what they do. If they were closer to $10, then I might not feel so inclined to point out the flaws. They work ok and I probably would still recommend them to a friend, but I wouldn't really rave about them.

All that being said, I'll still continue to use mine and I may very well get another set if they're on clearance or something, if anything so we can have a set for me and a set for my wife. Until then, the big one is good for packing to work in my laptop case and fixing some oatmeal for breakfast, plus makes a pretty snazzy water bowl when camping with our beagle (Yes, I wash it between those two methods of use...thoroughly).


My Review of Chaco Z/2 Unaweep Sandals - Men's

Originally submitted at REI

Sporting a lightweight design and high-performance outsoles, Chaco Z/2 toe-thong sandals set a high standard of comfort.

Excellent Outdoor Sandal

By thelosthiker from Central Kentucky on 8/2/2010


5out of 5

Sizing: Feels true to size

Width: Feels true to width

Pros: Comfortable, Good Arch Support, Breathes Well, Durable

Cons: heavy

Best Uses: Casual Wear, Commercial Guiding, Watersports, Travel, Going Out

Describe Yourself: Casual

I've had my Z/2's for seven years and dread the day I have to give them up. The soles are just now starting to wear a bit thin, the straps are still in great condition though. I've guided for a whitewater outfitter for several years and I have used these sandals for every single trip. I've also wore them on countless backpacking and hiking trips. It's safe to say that I've put them through the wringer and they're still going strong.

When I first bought them, I was a bit apprehensive about the toe-loop. They took a bit of getting used to, but once I got the toe strap adjusted just right, I will never go back. They came highly suggested by other guides, so I decided to try them and I'm glad I did!

They are simply the most stable sandals you can work/play in, hands down. Yes there are other shoes out there that might a bit more stable, but they're just Shoes might offer a bit more protection as well, but they do not offer the freedom and breathability that the Z/2's do.

As with pretty much any sandal, I suggest you clean them every so often to keep them from stinking, but that's a given. Otherwise, they're the most breathable thing you can have on your feet while still protecting them. Many adventurers, guides, photographers, filmmakers, etc...use these, especially in wet and/or humid environments where shoes and socks become a problem to keep clean and dry.

They work great on land and in the water, with one exception...although it should be a given as well. They're not the greatest things to wear to the beach. Sand gets in the footbed, in the straps, and between the straps and your feet...leading to some serious abrasion if used for an extended amount of time in that environment. Once you get in the water though, chug them a few times and that will get most of the sand out. Occasionally you might want to pull the straps back and forth in the footbed and rinse them out as well.

I prefer to use these over hiking boots/shoes on most of my lighter trips although for trips with heavier loads, they do not offer the same support as a boot and were not designed to. As for sheer distance, I've never had a problem. Although to prevent chafing, you need to properly adjust them and have them broken in before taking any longer trips.

The only problem that I can really think of is for some people who aren't used to them, they can be a bit heavy. That's the tradeoff though for a super-tough pair of sandals that will take anything you can throw at them.

One of the big things that people (including myself) love about Chacos, is the ability to send the sandals back to have them resoled and/or restrapped in the event of a mishap or if they are simply worn out.

The bottom line, these are great sandals for casual all the way to commercial use and they look great in the process. The footbed is very supportive and will accommodate just about any foot given you pick the right size and width. Chaco's have an almost cult-like following and it's for good reason...they're tough as nails, comfortable, and the signature Z's they leave on your feet(tan-lines) are a huge bragging right!


My Review of MSR DragonFly Backpacking Stove

Originally submitted at REI

For the international backpacking gourmet, the multi-fuel MSR DragonFly stove has the most adjustable flame of any liquid fuel burning stove.

My favorite stove so far!

By thelosthiker from Central Kentucky on 8/2/2010


5out of 5

Pros: Stable, Lightweight, Easy to Light, Powerful, Easy To Clean, Great temperature control

Cons: Bulky

Best Uses: High Altitude, Car Camping, Hiking, Backpacking

Describe Yourself: Professional/Guide

What Is Your Gear Style: Minimalist

This is one of my favorite stoves of all time, although it does have some drawbacks...
I love the fine control over the flame and the ability to use pretty much any liquid fuel imaginable, which is a HUGE plus when camping in locations where specialized fuel and canisters are few and far between (overseas, long-range trips, etc). The stove is relatively easy to setup and take down, albeit a bit bulky compared to others. Some may not like having to refill the fuel bottles, but it's usually not a big deal, it comes with the territory. The varying sizes of fuel bottles available will accommodate pretty much any trip, whether it be a overnight, weekend, or week long expedition.

I have heard complaints that the jet will clog up from time to time, but I've only used white gas and kerosene and have had zero problems out of three years of use. With some "dirtier" fuels or fuels that you think might be a bit contaminated or dirty, most people expect that cleaning the jets will become necessary at some point in time. If the shaker mechanism doesn't clean it, it's usually easy to take apart and clean the jet yourself.

I wish the stove were a little easier to pack, but it's more of a basecamp style stove anyways, so if you're packing one around for an expedition or big adventure, you'll usually have a pot or cookset big enough to stick it in. It's great for car camping and basecamps and will do good for weekend trips...just not the easiest thing to pack for all the minimalists out there.

It works perfect for what I've needed it for, my only real gripe other than the bulk, is the noise. That being said, I was warned before I bought the stove, when you really have it cranked up beyond a simmer, it's a bit loud. The thing sounds like a jet engine, it's almost hilarious. However, it is a powerful stove that can boil water extremely quickly, but still able to simmer a stew or cook eggs for breakfast.

Although I think it would take a near hurricane to blow the flame out, it comes with a windshield/barrier that helps keep an even flame as well as facilitate quicker cooking times by reducing the amount of heat lost around the sides. The shield also seems to dampen the sound a bit, which is nice. It also includes a circular shield that goes under the stove with its main purpose being to reflect heat, but it also keeps the stove from scorching the ground underneath.

It seems to be a pretty economical stove to use as well. I have a small 8oz MSR fuel bottle and I've used it for several multi-day or weekend trips and haven't had to refill, and that's cooking breakfast and dinner for 2-3 days.

Bottom line, it's a great stove for bigger/longer trips with several people. Excellent for base-camps and car camping. Not so much for thru-hikers and fastpackers, but there's other stoves in MSR's lineup that are better suited for that style or method of travel. It's loud, but not to the point of being unbearable. Fuel is available pretty much anywhere. SUPER stable and quick to setup. Will operate in the coldest environments and at any altitude. For this style of stove, I highly recommend the Dragonfly!

PS: A few people have heard of the issues MSR had with their earlier fuel pumps breaking and have asked me if I've experienced any problems out of mine. I've never had any issues with mine and I think when MSR changed the design a bit a few years ago along with using a tougher material, they remedied any issues with breakage. Although with any plastic or composite material, extra care should be taken when being used in colder environments as the colder temperature causes it to become brittle and more susceptible to breakage/failure.


My Review of MSR Pocket Rocket Backpacking Stove

Originally submitted at REI

Hands-down winner in the race for space! The tiny MSR Pocket Rocket stove delivers full-size performance yet fits into the smallest corner of your pack.

Great for a canister stove

By thelosthiker from Central Kentucky on 8/2/2010


4out of 5

Gift: No

Pros: Lightweight, Compact, Great temperature control, Powerful, Easy to Light

Cons: Unstable

Best Uses: Car Camping, Hiking, Backpacking

Describe Yourself: Professional/Guide

What Is Your Gear Style: Minimalist

I'm not the biggest fan of canister stoves, I'd rather use something that's easy to refill and doesn't produce waste. However, I've had one of these for years for quick meals while on the trail. They're super easy to light, quick to set up, and easy to pack (especially with the hard case, very nice). My only real gripes with them is you can't refill the canister (although you can recycle them, and new ones are less than $5 usually), you can't find canisters everywhere, once completely assembled it's a bit unstable on bumpy ground, it won't support bigger loads like cooking in a base camp, and any sort of isobutane fuel is finicky in cold weather and/or high altitudes.

The bottom line is if you don't like to fool with the mess of filling up fuel bottles, priming, etc...and you need a fast and light setup, these are just the ticket. Super simple setup...screw the canister in, turn on the gas, light and cook!
If you need something a little more diverse or are cooking for more than two people, look at maybe a liquid fuel stove. Either way, this stove is great for what it was designed for, fast and light setup and simple meals.