Saturday, May 29, 2010

Backpacking Alcohol Stove Fuel Comparison

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“Gain may be temporary and uncertain; but ever while you live, expense is constant and certain: and it is easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

So many people use alcohol stoves as a way to lighten their backpacks, myself included.  Yet we still have to carry the fuel, which is one of the reasons I use stoves that can burn wood or alcohol, sometime reducing the fuel weight or as a backup fuel (I’m currently using the EVERNEW Ti DX stove).

Most hikers use either denatured alcohol or HEET to fuel their alcohol stoves.  I was curious which of these performed better as well as other alternatives.  In this video (below) I compared the four most likely choices:

  • HEET (yellow bottle)
  • Iso-HEET (red bottle)
  • S-L-X Denatured Alcohol
  • Everclear Grain Alcohol

The price difference between HEET and denatured alcohol is minimal and varies depending on where you are buying it.  At the local LOWES HEET is $1.79 for 355ml (about 1/2 cent per ML).  Denatured Alcohol is $6.68 for 946ml (about 7/10 cent per ML).  Everclear at the liquor store is $15.75 for 750ml (about 2 cents per ML) – far more expensive.

When looking for HEET competitors, the marketing people make it very difficult to tell what is actually in the bottle.  Some companies put the chemical abstract number in the ingredient list (the number starting with CAS#…..) others like “STP” don’t (by the way STP is not a good fuel).

HEET in the yellow bottle is CAS#67-56-1: Translation – This is 100% Methyl Alcohol.  Iso-HEET is CAS#67-63-0: Translation – This is 90 – 100% Isopropyl Alcohol.  Iso-HEET is not the same as “Rubbing Alcohol” sold in drug stores which is only 70% Isopropyl Alcohol.  Denatured Alcohol is “ethanol” a.k.a. Ethyl Alcohol plus an additive that makes it poisonous to drink.  It is not clear what percentage of S-L-X Denatured Alcohol is Ethyl.  Everclear Grain Alcohol sold in liquor stores and drinkable is 95% “Grain Alcohol” which is Ethyl Alcohol.

All that said I compared these four options.  The Iso-HEET performed “Best” in my test bringing the water to a boil first.  Denatured alcohol was a close second, nearly the same as Everclear.  HEET (yellow bottle) did the worst boiling the water last and the flame going out first.

However, Iso-HEET also burned very ‘dirty’ covering the pot in soot.  I often use my pots on a wood burner so you wouldn’t think this would bother me, but this soot was much dirtier than you get from a wood fire, getting all over my hands and making everything dirty.

It was also pointed out to me by one of my viewers on my Youtube channel that the height of the pots my be effecting the results.  That I may have inadvertently placed the pots at the optimum height for Iso-HEET and the worst height for HEET (flame temperature varying by it’s height). Hmm.  This could be.  I will need to redo this test with the pots at different heights – I’ll see if I can make some time for that.  In the mean time, here’s the video of my results:



Thursday, May 27, 2010

“Live Free or Die” – Review of Dead Men Walk No Trails by Rick McKinney

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“A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.” -- Paul Dudley White


Dealing with suicidal depression after a friends suicide, the author’s self prescribed treatment is to hike the Appalachian Trail (GA>ME 2004) writing this book as he goes uploading a bit at a time.

Blue blazing, aqua blazing (a canoe trip through Shenandoah) , yellow blazing. listening to the radio most of the way.  The author writes more about heavy drinking, ‘self-medicating’, and taking weeks at a time ‘off-trail’, than he does about the actual hiking - not your typical Appalachian trail thru-hiker.  White-blaze purist would be incredulous. And yet, even though in large parts of the book he spends obsessed with chasing this girl or the other girl (some parts more like an adolescent romance novel than a trail journal) there is still deep insight into our motivations and desires to be ‘free’.  At times, freedom from loneliness seems to be his main concern.

His writing style at first appears a bit choppy, jumping about through time and from subject to subject. After a few chapters it takes on a certain rhythm and it holds the readers interest.  He has a humorous way of ranting about life, fits in meaningful discussions and gives us some understanding of why people choice to go on long distance hikes.  For Rick is it mostly about freedom. 

The author is a talented writer who hiked the AT, not an AT hiker who decided to write a book.  The difference in the quality of the writing is clear.  And as this writer walked he came to grips with the boredom of long-distance hiking and developed a love of the trail.

Rick is currently walking the PCT (2010); is blog on the PCT hike is at: http://whodaresdomoreisnone.wordpress.com/

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Synchronous Bioluminescent Fireflies / Lightning Bugs in the Smoky Mountains

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"The fireflies o'er the meadow In pulses come and go." ~ James Russell Lowell Source: Midnight (st. 3)
A natural wonder is about to take place in the Smoky Mountains.  One of only two places in the world where fireflies will, for a short time, synchronize their blinking.  This is an amazing natural light show that takes place each year for about a week in mid-June. (June 7th – June 14th).  If you are near the Smokies you want to get to the Little River Trail at Elkmont (via park trolley service from Sugarlands Visitor Center).
synchronized-fireflies-1-284x350 use
An except from the National Park Service website:
Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) are one of 14 species of fireflies that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They are the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns.
Fireflies (also called lightning bugs) are beetles. They take from one to two years to mature from larvae, but will live as adults for only about 21 days. Their light patterns are part of the adulthood mating display. Each species of firefly has characteristic flash pattern that helps its male and female individuals recognize each other. Most species produce a greenish-yellow light; one species has a bluish light. The males fly and flash and the usually stationary females respond with a flash. Peak flashing for synchronous fireflies in the park is normally within a two-week period in mid-June.
The production of light by living organisms is called bioluminescence. Many species of insects and marine creatures are capable of it. Fireflies combine the chemical luciferin and oxygen with the enzyme luciferase in their lanterns (part of their abdomens) to make light. The chemical reaction is very efficient and produces little or no heat.
No one is sure why the fireflies flash synchronously. Competition between males may be one reason: they all want to be the first to flash. Or perhaps if the males all flash together they have a better chance of being noticed, and the females can make better comparisons. The fireflies do not always flash in unison. They may flash in waves across hillsides, and at other times will flash randomly. Synchrony occurs in short bursts that end with abrupt periods of darkness.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hiking with Powdered Drinks, Lemons and Powdered Butter

“Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways.” ~ Stephen Vincent BenĂ©t

A few odds and ends in this post, first something about these powdered drinks mixes – Am I the only one that thinks they just might be repackage, over priced cool-aid?   If you hike with a hydration system in your backpack like a Camelback or a platypus you probably don’t get as much use out of these things as I do.  I never really got used to drinking out of a bladder in my backpack.

So I find these powdered drink mixes quite useful, for when I just get bored with plain water or when the water along the trail might taste a bit nasty.  I started out using Gatorade mixes, but have found several others I like better, especially just plain pure lemon juice.  Often you can pick up a few these little packages of lemon juice no charge and gas station convenience store – normally where they have the sugar for you coffee.Lemon Juice @ Wilderness Dining

If you can’t find it, you can buy the packets on-line  from “WildernessDining.com” our newest affiliate advertiser. Click on the picture of Lemon Juice to buy it on-line.

I ran across Wilderness Dining a couple weeks ago and was impressed enough to have BackpackBaseCamp.com become an affiliate of theirs.  I found them because I was searching for dehydrated powdered butter for backpacking.  This dehydrated butter comes in a package of 36 tsps, weights just 2 ounces for the entire package. Each teaspoon of it can make a tablespoon of butter.  I found a few suppliers for dehydrated butter, but that all wanted to sell in very large quantities (for the survivalist and emergency food markets). I didn’t need a lifetime supply of powered butter and didn’t want to spend that much.  Fortunately I found WildernessDining.com, they have reasonable price on a great variety of dehydrated backpacking foods and camping cookware supplies.   

On a completely unrelated subject; If you have a few more minutes, this is an excellent article on the REI web set on Ultralight Backpacking.

BackpackBaseCamp.com is now an affiliate with Wilderness Dining:






And…Since we just got a new puppy at home…Check out the dog gear at altrec.com – They are having some great sales:

Columbia Outdoor Sale - Up to 55% off

Memorial Tent Sale - Up to 30% off

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bug Repellents for Hiking and Backpacking

”Some days you are the bug, some days you are the windshield.”

OK so finally the nights are starting to get warm now in the Garden State.  Overall that’s great except it also means – BUGS!  Lions, Tigers and Bears my scare the novice backpacker or hiker, but anyone that’s been backpacking for awhile knows that bugs are the ones that can ruin your trip and drive you out of the woods.  I’ve tried a few different repellents, personally I still find DEET works the best.  Spray on seems to the best way to reach various body parts and it keeps you hands from getting sticky.  I have found that some containers leak.  You don’t want leaky bug spray all over your hands or worse spilled in you backpack.  For a while I as putting the container in a plastic zip-lock bag as insurance, but that is a bit of a bother.

This year I’ve been using “REPEL Sportsmen Max pen” which comes in a light weight 14ml tube (weight: about 1.0 ounces).  What I like about this item is that in addition to being an affective repellent –it has a plastic cap over the spray head that clicks tight – no possible leaks.  I got mine at Target but it is also available via Amazon. 

I’ve also tried and still sometimes use disposable wipes / Towelettes that are treated with DEET.  These weigh practically nothing but then you also have the remaining trash to carry out.   Currently I have a box OFF! Deep Woods Towelettes I’ve been using which are 25% DEET. The Ben’s Wipes on the on link below (click on picture) are 30% DEET.

If the bugs are really bad I also have a small bottle of Ben’s 100 (which is actually 98% DEET). This little bottle holds 2 1/2 times more than the REPEL pen – 37 ml (1.25 fl oz) and weighs 1.8 ounces.  It also has plastic cap that slips over the sprayer – so far it has not leaked – but the plastic cap does not “click on” so I’m not feeling it is quite as leak proof as the REPEL pen (click on photo for link).

  An alternate to the REPEL pen is a similar Coleman product – photo below. 





Monday, May 10, 2010

Backpacking with a Tween

” We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today. ~Stacia Tauscher

I’ve finally managed to get my pre-teen daughter out backpacking. Actually it was due to my wife joining in the conspiracy so that we could surprise her with a new puppy when we returned the following day.  She’s almost twelve and in good shape so we could have gone on a much longer hike, but the timing of my wife picking up the puppy required that I keep her out of the house from after school on Friday – then having her back late Saturday afternoon.

For those of you in the New York/New Jersey area that might like to duplicate this hike; I decided to take her up to Bald Rocks shelter in New York Harriman State Park.  We started the hike on the White Bar trail just of RT 106 (off 17 N) about 1/2 mile past Lake Stahahe (small parking area on the right).  We hiked a flat 1/4 mile then turned right on the Nurian trail (marked with White with “N”).  The Norian trail soon goes up steeply and terminates into the Ramapo-Dunerberg trail at “Black Rock” (very large boulder).  We turned left onto the “R-D” trail and followed it along the ridge to Bald Rocks Shelter.  The entire hike is under 2 miles with some intense steep parts.  Just the right distance considering how late in the day we started and that this was the first time Nickie had hiked with a backpack of any real weight (12 LBs).

We found we were the only ones at Bald Rocks, very surprising since this is one of the most popular and most accessible camp sites in the park.  I’m guessing the threat of thunderstorms that night kept people away.  But we were lucky and only got strong winds and a slight rain.

We were able to setup our tent before dark, relax and cook a nice meal.  Normally backpacking I bring my one man tent ( a Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo – see prior article) but having Nickie with me, that wouldn’t do.  So a packed in my L.L.Bean Micro Light two person tent.

Video of hike to Bald Rocks and L.L.Bean Micro Light tent:

I purchased the Bean Micro Light tent a few years ago when I first thought my kids were old enough to go camping.  Its gotten minimal use up to now but it looks like it will be getting much more exercise this year.

The LL Bean Micro Light Two-Person Backpacking Tent (non-affiliate link). Sells for $149, weights 3 lb 12 oz (respectably light for a two-person tent). Without the fly, other than the floor it is complete no–see-um mesh – fantastic for ventilation and for seeing the stars.  It’s made of 30-denier ripstop nylon.  The rain fly is coated with 1,500 mm silicone on the outside and a polyurethane layer inside. It has a 2-pole hoop-style construction, making it great in the wind (was proved this weekend), easy to setup although not completely free standing. Very good head room – two people fit very comfortably.


So I’m very happy with this tent and will continue to use it with my children and wife (if I can every get her to go backpacking!).  That said, if I was to buy a two-person tent today, I might bypass this one and choose the Big Agnes Fly Creek Ultralight 2 (see previous review of the UL1). 

The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 is over a pound lighter than the Micro Light and is free standing (well almost).  The down side of course is the price - $200 more than the Bean Micro Light.  I know, that’s an expensive pound.  It also packs smaller (19”L vs 6.5”W versus 23”L x 6”W).  You do loose a bit of head room with the Fly Creek also (Been peak is 3’6”, the BA is 3’2”).  On top of that it is hard to find to find the Fly Creek UL2 in stock anywhere.Flycreekul2

At  the time of writing this, I found it at Ramey Outdoor (Affiliate of BPBC) and on Amazon.com.

OK, enough about gear – the really good news is that Nicole loved backpacking and wants to go again (so back to gear - I’m going to have to find a decent backpack that fits a 12 year old girl).  We made it back to the house Saturday afternoon with zero problems, a happy kid – and then an ecstatic kid when she was surprised by a new puppy.




Sunday, May 2, 2010

EVERNEW Ti DX Backpacking Stove Burning Wood

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“"Backpacking is the art of knowing what not to take." - Sheridan Anderson

Last week I tested the new Evernew titanium alcohol stove. (see Related post testing the Evernew Ti DX with Alcohol).  This weekend I tested the stove in wood burning mode.image

The stove did well bringing 2 cups of water to a boil  (slightly less than 500 ml) in about 10 minutes (water starting at 62 degrees, ambient temperature about 80 degrees).

Watch the short video below to see how it performed.

The stove alone sells for $46, the DX set including the stove $87.  Backpackbasecamp.com has become a distributor for Evernew America. We don’t yet have a web store setup, but I have a small number of these stoves; email me at:
RMorris AT backpackbasecamp.com if you are interested.

Related post testing the Evernew Ti DX with Alcohol

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Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee for Backpacking

OK, So people have been telling me for a year that Starbucks VIA Ready Brew instant coffee is really good and since one pack of it weights only 4 grams (0.2 ounces) it’s pretty much perfect for hiking, camping and backpacking.  Problem was:

A. I’ve tried all different kinds of instant coffee and they all pretty much suck.

B. I don’t like Starbucks: I don’t like their coffee, I don’t like them being so overpriced and don’t like their urban / yuppie marketing.

Herevia-readybrew’s the thing though, I been hearing it so much, when I saw it in Target last week I figured I would risk the $3 bucks and give it a try.  Actually I tried both the Columbia (medium) and the Italian Roast (Extra Bold). 

I think what made be buy it was that Starbucks used a normal English word like “medium” right on the label.  Usually at Starbucks I think the word “Grande” translates to “medium”. 

Anyway, all the marketing B.S. aside, the stuff actually tastes like real coffee.  Best instant coffee I have ever had by far. So I’m reluctantly going to bring it on my next backpacking trip, which happens to be with my daughter next weekend.

It looks like Starbucks is now selling this stuff in various grocery stores and Targets all over the place.  If you can’t find it you can get it from REI Click HERE.