For this second post I will be taking a look at camping ‘kitchen’ equipment. There are many, many, different routes to go down when it comes to stoves, pots and so on and much is a personal preference. As the years role by I find myself preferring simple technology that is robust, easy to use and which doesn’t malfunction in the field.
I gave up using canister stoves some years ago and now prefer to use alcohol, esbits or — when I can — a real fire. To be fair canister stoves have come a long way in recent years especially since Jetfoil began to roll out their heat exchange technology. The Jetboil is a great piece of kit but …
Last summer I was stravaiging around the Cairngorms with Alan Callow. Alan had a Jetfoil with him. The weather was cold and the wind bitter. We sought protection in the shelter at the top of Ben MacDui. Alan whipped out his Jetboil and I couldn’t have been anything but impressed at the boil speed he obtained. Suitably rested and warmed we dropped down the hill until we found the highest possible camp spot below the summit and then we made camp. It was only an hour or so later but Alan’s Jetboil decided to give up the ghost. This struck me as more than a little annoying. If we had been camping in the cooler months I guess Alan would have been really pissed off. While this hi tec stuff really does deliver the goods it all strikes me as too fragile for me these days.
I prefer to use a simple alcohol stove with now moving parts and nothing that I can break as I crash around my tent or campsite. Alcohol takes a little time to warm ager you have made camp but I can honestly say that I have never found the short weight that frustrating. It’s quite easy to warm you fuel bottle by placing it under your arm pit or by stashing it in the pocket of a down jacket. Alcohol is also pretty cheap and many of the new stoves are very economical although in the cold Highlands I am looking for effectiveness rather than pure efficiency. There is nothing to break with an alcohol stove and the whole arrangement is rather more environmentally friendly than a canister stove.
On my last solo challenge I was happy to use a Caldera Cone beer can burner in my Honey Stove. I had my pot suspended by pegs so that the base was below the top of the Honey Stove and I found this arrangement to be just as fuel efficient as using the dedicated Caldera Cone windshield. The advantage of the Honey Stove as a windshield is that it can be easily used as a wood burner if the conditions are right. However, I was only able to burn wood on my last wild camp and at the campsite at Montrose.
Last autumn Kate and I relied on a grid and tested base system from Caldera Cone. This is the system where you buy the appropriate windshield for your pot — each windshield is cut to provide a perfect fit for the rim of your pot. I have happily used Caldera systems for years now. The system is simple and almost foolproof. The kit comes with an almost weightless beer can stove and an even lighter stove (if you can call it that) for solid fuel tablets (12 grams). The only downside of this system is that the windshield has to be protected in a rather big plastic tube — an example of the volume issue I mentioned last time out. I have two of these systems, a solo version designed to work with my Mountain Laurel pot (100 grams), and a dual pot version which works with an MSR 1.5 litre pot (158 grams).
On that autumn trip I replaced with Caldera burner with the titanium Evernew burner. This is twice the weight of the Caldera beer can stove but at 35 grams I’m really not going to complain that much! The Evernew is a great design. Two rows of jets really pump out a lot of heat and as a result this is a very fast boiling piece of kit for an alcoholic stove. It’s not cheap the Evernew but is built like a tank and should last a lifetime. The Evernew is also not as fuel efficient as some alcohol stoves but then it is efficient enough; on cold Scottish nights I am looking for speed and effectiveness over pure efficiency.
The basic Caldera Cone kits may be bulky in your pack but they are not heavy. The system for my MLD solo pot weighs 137 grams and that for my MSR pot 175 grams. The Cone systems tend to have to be imported but they are pretty affordable. The downside to them is that they have limited durability. My solo pot shield is beginning to fail now and can slip, which is a bit of a problem when you are boiling water in a vestibule!
Caldera’s design has moved on quite a bit since I bought my system. The new sidewinder system is designed so that it can wind up and be stored in a pot which obviously saves space. You can buy several options for turning the system into a wood burner. The system works very well and is very popular. I do think it is expensive though.
When I’m looking to use a multi fuel option I prefer to couple the Evernew with the Titanium Honey Stove from backpackinglight.co.uk. The Ti HS is very light and packs down flat which is very handy for your pack. I also think it is a better wood burner than the Caldera system.
Which system will I take on the Challenge? I think this depends on the weather forecast! If it looks as if we will get some dry weather I will take the Evernew and the Honey Stove. If the weather looks horrendous I’ll do what I did in the autumn and take the Caldera system as a shield to the Evernew.
I’ve already mentioned the MSR 1.5 litre pot which weighs 158 grams. This is the only pot we carry — you don’t need two! When camping solo I often just rely on a pot but when we walk as a pair I allow myself the luxury of a titanium mug from MSR (60 grams). We both carry plastic fold-up plates, Japanese designed and which can adapt to different shapes — kind of origami like. These plates are great and weigh only a few grams each. They pack flat so they can be slipped easily into your pack. These are widely available although I think the design has changed to avoid the use of poppers. I have a mug from this system which simply uses folded, intersecting, tabs to work — but I can never assemble it properly! Maybe a simply plastic plate would be a better option.
For cutlery I either use a folding titanium spork (20 grams) or a plastic spork and fork combined which is about the same weight.
I use an old fire steel to light my fuel. This weighs 30 grams although I have removed the striker which is pretty useless. I strike the steel using the blade of my swiss army knife (119 grams). I keep the fire steel attached to my removable pot handle by a piece of Dyneema chord so I that I don’t loose it!
An essential for me. The MSR Coffee mate weighs 19 grams and simply sits inside the titanium mug.
I use an old Platypus carrier (58 grams) with two handles at the top. This has taken some real wear so much so that the outer laminated layer is flaking off. This only carries the printed label on the carrier and doesn’t seem to stop it being water-tight. This will hold a couple of litres — enough for the evening and the morning. I find this to be something of an essential in Scotland as often I don’t want to be nipping out of the tent for more water!
When walking in Scotland there is no real need for expensive water purification systems as Guardia virus has not made its way here yet. I am happy carrying a simple litre mineral water bottle; these may be light but they are very strong! Otherwise, I have used a Travel Tap (103 grams) from backpackiglight.co.uk which has an optional/removable filter (77 grams). This year Kate will carry one of these. I shall probably invest in a Sawyer mini filter which will fit the screw thread of a mineral water bottle.
There’s not much more to it all than that. The decision as to whether you use canister of alcohol stoves is a matter of personal choice. The Jetboil-type stoves are very expensive and the tiny alcohol stoves can be very cheap. Personally, I just think the Jetboils are too expensive — as goods they are.
Your choice of Kitchen equipment is one of those areas where with a bit of ruthlessness you can save a lot of weight. Titanium pots and mugs are a good investment as they will last a lifetime. You only need one pot. Sporks and plastic plates are not only very light but durable.