Thursday, June 28, 2007

Navigational aids...

I ordered 8.5 x 11 inch mapping paper from iGage. It comes in a pack of 50, and the above scale shot is from the weigh-in.

569g for 50 sheets: 11.38g each sheet.

This is funny to me because a single map page will weigh as much as the second popcan stove I made.

Nevermind, even at several pounds, there would be scant replacement for good topo maps on a trail I am unfamiliar with.

I bought the CT trail map CD-ROM (also from iGage) and I'm still checking, but I think -- printing both sides -- I can get the number of map pages to about 20 or about 228g.

I'll post my gear spreadsheet soon so you can see how the half pound of maps compares to the rest.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Homemade, Lightweight Sandals

Last year in order to save weight I opted not to bring any sort of camp shoes or sandals. After 17 mile days in the Sierra's with my feet being continually wet from creek crossings I wished I had brought some. There's no better feeling than taking your wet shoes and socks off after a long day and putting on a pair of sandals to let your feet breath. Unfortunately there is nothing out on the market that provides you with ultralight weight sandals. So I devised a pair of sandals that weigh .95oz (for the pair) and don't cost a thing. If you have any extra thermarest or foam padding lying around all you have to do is cut out the shape of your foot and attach a semi-thick rubber band underneath the sandal, over your forefoot and voila! An ultralight weight sandal that will be much welcome after a long days hike. Personally I am using flexible velcro straps for a little more durability than a rubber band.
I've tested them outdoors and they work fantastic plus they pack down so easy! Give them a try!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Shoe Search: GoLite Sun Dragon

The GoLite Sun Dragon pictured above is the first of the trail running shoes I've tried on for the CT. There are about half a dozen more I want to try out, all clock in under 24 ounces (680g) per pair.

I will give the Sun Dragons another chance, but my initial impression wasn't favorable. The shoe has a loose fit in the size I need -- there's a lot of movement in the heel cup and for some reason the outside-mid section of my right foot (and not my left) feels funny in the shoe.

They're made for neutral runners and I pronate (roll in) a decent amount.

There's a lot of room in the toe box and the upper is slightly stretchy so it feels good.

The shoes include an interchangeable fore-foot fitting system that I don't know anything about and neither did the salesperson at REI.

I'm unclear as to whether this is a failure to train on the manufacturer's part, or a failure to learn on the retailer's.

In any case, I will try these on again. Demetri is a cool guy, and GoLite is a local (Boulder) company doing a lot of work to lighten peoples' loads.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bars, bars, bars, bars... (Updated - 86 Bars)

For that headline to sound right, you have to sing it like the organ music they play at baseball games.

I am happy to bring food bars along on the trail for the simple facts that they provide tasty mid-day snacking, are ready-to-go, and can be help maintain nutritional balance.

With literally hundreds of bars on the market though, which ones should a backpacker bring?

I'm glad you asked. I've put together a list of bars with basic nutrition information.

Yes, although I wouldn't generally consider them food, I did include Snickers on here. I did so because many backpackers are taking them out and I wanted to show how they compare to other food bars on the market.

Andy Skurka, for example, is taking them I believe and in his blog makes mention that though the candy bars are high in sugar, the high fat content will slow the rate at which they are burned.

I would still consider them luxury items because by and large they are nutritionally bankrupt. The sugar may burn slowler, but your body is going to crash after you process it, and you aren't getting a lot of the vitamins, electrolytes and trace minerals you pick up from the other food bars.

Heat stability is another problem worth considering. If you're hiking in moderate weather with solar exposure, you're likely going to be opening a bag of melted chocolate. If you want a cacao snack, consider taking raw nibs or dark chocolate.

The list is currently at about 7086 bars. I will keep adding more as I have time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Saturday, June 16, 2007

CT Gear List Spreadsheet

This is still incomplete because I still need to acquire my backpack and weigh it. I included a rough estimate of what it should be when I get it. All it takes is some creativity and the will to trust yourself and your equipment to achieve a light weight pack. When the base weight gets below 10 pounds it's all a matter of personal preference of how low you want to go because the fact is that it's really not going to matter on a physical level. However, having that type of mentality is a great asset in backpacking and in life.

Going light makes a world of difference when you're out there on the trail. Not just from a lighter load standpoint, but from the fact that it's a much simpler lifestyle. Mostly everything is a necessity so therefore you frequently use them and some of them have double uses. You become expert in using what you have and you realize that you need nothing more. It's a very liberating way to live knowing how little material one needs. You just have to know how to efficiently use everything you bring with you while not compromising your safety. The resources are out there! This is not about ego, but about being simple.

This philosophy can be transfered over into your daily life which may help reduce the unnecessary stress we have been placing on ourselves and this earth.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Some of the best mods are simple

If your gear doesn't meet your needs as packaged: fix it! This is easier for some types of gear, and a sleeping pad is chief among them.

A sleeping pad is intended to provide your bones with some padding for the ground (more important for protecting the hips of scrawny side sleepers like me). Additionally, the sleeping pad insulates you from the ground to varying degrees by type and thickness of pad. If you sleep with your head on a pillow (or pack) and rest your feet on a pillow (or pack), you really only need a pad that reaches from your shoulders to your butt, no wider than your shoulders or hips.

Last year I took a Thermarest Ridgerest (the green one) and was pleased with it. I cut it down and was comfortable when I was carrying it and sleeping on it. This year, I'm trying a closed-cell foam pad (the blue ones they sell at REI). It's a little lighter and I think I'll be comfortable.

As a side note, the Ridgerest is lighter, cheaper and provides more insulation per unit area than the Z-rest which is advertised as packing into a smaller area. Most people pack sleeping pads outside of their pack so I'm not sure why this matters, and once you cut your pad down, it's negligible.

Here's why it's worth cutting your sleeping pad down:

Starting Size: 24.5" x 57"
Starting Weight: 213g (7.5 oz.)

Ending Size: 16.5" x 29"
Ending Weight: 70g (2.5oz.)

Weight Savings: 143g (5 oz.)

Interesting stove information

Temporarily neglecting any concern for authenticity of source, I found this neat article on the temperature of a flame as determined by flame color and distance from the base of the flame.

I'll keep my eye on this since it has some implications in designing (or more precisely, sizing) the pot stand for my stove.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

1500 cubic inches is small, and that's a good thing.

I went to check out the VO pack from Go-Lite at REI. I've been thinking about the ION which is the same size (1500 ci). It's a lot smaller than I had visualized. The only real problem for internal storage is my sleeping bag. It won't really fit in there, but I'm thinking I could attach it to the outside and take a trash bag along in case of rain.

It's retarded that REI carries so little of the GoLite line (they're based 30-minutes away in Boulder, have lightweight and reasonably priced gear), but I understand why. I understand each time I eavesdrop on backpack sales and someone in a green vest tries to shill a $200, 4-pound, 5000ci Gregory backpack to someone.

Selling an over-sized bag is the equivalent of selling someone calamity insurance. A novice hiker can look at that cavernous 70 liter bag all googly-eyed and envision filling it with remedies for every possible insecurity. It's not their fault, it's the natural consequence of inexperience.

I'll admit, before the JMT I fell for it -- but after nearly three weeks on the trail I decided I could be more comfortable with half the gear (and half the weight). This decision isn't about forsaking comfort in search of a 4-pound baseweight, but rather about covering basic safety and packing simply.

Making my stove...

I didn't know much anything about gearing up for backpacking on last year's hike of the John Muir Trail.

The gear I took for cooking was no exception. I packed the newly-introduced Jet Boil "Personal Cooking System." It wasn't clear at the time, but now I'm under the impression that anything labeled as fancily as a "Cooking System":
  • Will be heavy,
  • Will be complicated, and,
  • Will be expensive.
The stove won a best-of award from Backpacker Magazine, but I think it was on the criterion that it could bring a cup of water to rolling boil inside of 4 minutes. Granted, it wasn't really that complicated, but the weight was just under a pound at 15.25 ounces (432 g), and the price tag was just shy of $100. This, of course, is before you add fuel into the equation. You have to use special cannisters to fuel this thing. The fuel adds weight and cost, though the Jet Boil is fortunately rather efficient as far as cooking goes, mitigating these factors somewhat.

Nonetheless, when I encountered Nano (and Valerie) 100 miles into the JMT, I was jealous of their cooking equipment. They were both traveling with Brasslite alcohol stoves. They both took an extra two minutes to boil their water, and simmering was a pain in the ass -- but on a long distance through hike, you're happy to sit down for 6 minutes at the end of an 18-mile day. And complicated food was one of the reasons I nearly starved myself last year (more on this in a separate blog).

I will summarize the main benefits of an alcohol stove for you:
  • Lightweight (the Brasslite Turbo II-F weighs in at 1.4 oz / 40 g)
  • Fuel Availability (These stoves burn ethyl and methyl alcohol which are widely available in the most remote of stores as Everclear, denatured alcohol, HEET fuel additive, etc.)
  • Size (The volume of a JetBoil is about half a gallon. The volume of the Brasslite is about half a pint)
  • Simplicity (Just pour the alcohol in a Brasslite and ignite. A Brasslite doesn't have threaded connectors or machined valves, so there isn't much to fix. Try repairing a Jet Boil outside of town).
  • Price (Alcohol stoves can be purchased for well under $50, and plans are freely available on the internets to make them for even less money. Alcohol is also an inexpensive fuel.)
Of course, my argument (let's call it a "point," we're not fighting, are we?) is predicated on the assumption that one likes small, simple, light, cheap and easy-to-fuel cooking devices. This is not always such a high priority for 3-day, 16-mile weekend backpacking trip (and almost never for car camping). But for a hundred-mile trek with infrequent resupplies where you're a day and a half or more from civilization -- well, I would assert that it's indispensable.

When I started looking around for stoves this year, alcohol burners were at the top of my list. I am amazed at just how many options there are. Particularly fascinating to me are the Popcan stoves -- just as they sound, stoves made from spent pop cans. There are a staggering variety of designs available, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

I quickly became interested in the pressurized design variant. Primarily because of its fuel efficiency. After searching, I located a design that had a few safety and ease-of-construction modifications.

Striving to make the stove even smaller and lighter, I settled on using an energy drink can for the casing. (Also, I haven't been drinking much caffeine lately and have had half a case of Bing! energy drink laying around from a sponsorship meeting I had with them over a month ago for Geeks Who Drink).

Now, I present to you, my energy drink can alcohol stove:

The first item I had to procure, of course, was the energy drink can in question. It is a "standard" energy drink can size. To the left you can see some acetaminophen I was taking since I was a jackass earlier in the day and went on a 26-mile bike ride without any sunscreen on my arms. Behind, you'll see some origami Sonobe module pieces I made -- it's how I pass the time when I'm procastinatng. And finally, to the right, you'll see a printout I made that has 24 radii pointing out to the edges of a circle the diameter of the can. This is the template for making evenly-spaced fuel jet holes.

To make the holes in the bottom of the can (well, not the bottom, but the side of the lip on the bottom) I just used a pushpin. A lot of the instructions on the web use sewing needles held in X-acto knives and other complications. I found that he pushpins were cheaper, stronger, and generally sharper. Also, because of the way you have to hold the pushpin, I think you have a greater amount of control in just barely puncturing the aluminum without greatly enlarging the hole.

Next came the cutting of the can. The directions I linked to above use a box cutter blade screwed to a block of wood. I had just as easy a time using a razor blade I held to the top of the book. the process was the same: I twisted the can against the blade, gently applying pressure until I got through it. You can tell rather easily if you're pressing too hard before you actually dent the can.

To tap the fuel fill hole, I set the can piece on top of the acetaminophen bottle and drove a screw through. To the right of the can halves, you'll see the large bag of perlite generously donated to me by my friend Kat. An inert filler is generally accepted as a way to increase vapor pressure (at the expense of preheating time) while providing a measure of safety in the event the stove is tipped over.

I had some trouble getting the top of the stove to fit around the bottom part. In the original instructions, they more or less assemble the stove before poking holes in it. To encourage a smooth fit, they jam an unopened can into the lower part to enlarge it. Next time, I will give this a go. Nonetheless I got my top on with only minor denting.

This design is one that is likely tight enough to not have any leaks between the two cans, but just to be sure, I applied a bead of JB Weld metal epoxy around the seam of the two cans. This stuff is easy to use and heat-resistant to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. I think I'm going to use it to attach a pilot light base to the stove and maybe a pot stand at some point.

And finally, here's a video the stove's test firing.

I'm pleased with the performance overall. Using pop can tabs as a pot stand (which hold the pot about 2mm above the rim of the stove) I was able to get a cup of water to a gentle boil in 7 minutes using Everclear. This performance is acceptable for my uses, though I'm going to see if I can tune it a little and improve things with a better pot stand and a windscreen. I'm also going to make a stove out of a regularly-sized pop can and see how it performs.

Weight: 13g (0.459 oz.)
Approximate materials cost: $1.00


Welcome to the newly created adventure blog of Mike "Nano" Chamoun and Joel "Starvin' Puck" Peach.

This July, we're going to through-hike the entire 483-mile Colorado Trail. It starts at Chatfield State Park in Denver and cruises to Durango in the southwestern corner of the state. Along the way we'll travel among eight mountain ranges, seven national forests, six wilderness areas and five river systems.

We'll also summit the second highest mountain in the continental United States (Mt. Elbert). We climbed the highest one (Mt. Whitney) when we met up last year hiking the John Muir Trail.

Here you'll see information about our itinerary as well as the gear we're buying, gear we're making, and food we're preparing for the trail.

We share a philosophy of making overland travel as simple as possible to maximize enjoyment of the incredible scenery we're hiking so far to see. And we hope to share that with you.

Welcome to the adventure.