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Electric kit on-the-go

July 20, 2016 — BarryK
I have rationalized my electrical and electronic kit down to a very small number of items, and very light.

I have need of telephone, Internet access, GPS, read ebooks, and take photos, all provided by my mobile phone. I also wish to listen to music and news, either streamed from the Internet or by FM radio, and my mobile phone does both -- the latter requires ear pieces as the cable acts as the FM antenna.

I have need of light, for which I have two options, either my mobile phone, or a tiny rechargeable torch that I bought from dx.com.
Note, I sewed a ribbon onto the torch, so it becomes an extremely light-weight head-lamp.

Optionally, depending on where I go, or in an emergency, I need some means of sterilizing water. I could boil it, but currently I am trying a Steripen, the Freedom model, with rechargeable battery.

So, phone, torch and Steripen, each with rechargeable battery, via micro-USB socket.
If I have mains access, I have a small power-adaptor. If not, I have a solar panel. Also, a short USB cable.

Here it all is:


This configuration is so flexible, and so light. Actually, the phone in the picture is not the one I normally use, as I took the photo with that. My everyday phone is a bit bigger, with 5.5 inch screen. Here are the weights:

My 5.5 inch phone: 171g
Torch, with ribbon: 18g
Ear pieces: 14g
Power-adaptor, plus USB cable: 43g
Steripen, with soft case: 98g
Solar panel: 92g


That is a total of 436g. Without the Steripen, it is only 338g.

The solar panel is not intended to be used on the outside of the backpack while walking, instead only used when stationary. I have explained why, and reviewed the panel here:
http://barryk.org/light/solar/panels-small-2016.htm

I have reservations about the Steripen, as it does not sterilize above the water-line. So water droplets on the inside and outside of the container will not be sterilized -- seems to me that you are gambling each time you use it. Though, if you are careful, the odds are pretty much in your favour.

Here is the manufacturer's page on the Freedom model:
http://www.steripen.com/freedom/

I bought my Steripen from Travel Universe here in Australia, as it was far cheaper than any other Australian retailer (AU$139):
http://www.traveluniverse.com.au/Freedom-Portable-Water-Purifier-SteriPEN/STERIFREE.htm

This is the USB-rechargeable torch that I purchased from Deal Extreme:
http://www.dx.com/p/usb-rechargeable-water-resistant-0-5w-led-white-flashlight-black-orange-255383

If you are curious about what phone I use, it is a Mlais M52:
http://www.mlais.com/html/201503/content_178.html

...not the latest out there, but I love it. It has a 5.5 inch screen, but probably the next phone I buy will have a bigger screen, perhaps up to 6 inches. The bigger screen real-estate is good for browsing the Internet, reading ebooks, and, well, for everything.

Tags: light

Kitchen on-the-go

July 20, 2016 — BarryK
I am getting the items together for an upcoming overnight hike.
This time I might take my cooking gear, and this post shows what it consists of.

I decided to take my Vargo Triad alcohol stove, that I reviewed here:
http://bkhome.org/news/201606/vargo-triad-stove.html

Almost everything packs inside my TOAKS 700ml titanium pot. This photo shows all the items. On the left are items that do not fit inside the pot (spoon, insulite cozy, bag-closer):


The items are windshield, box of matches, collapsible silicone cup, Triad stove, holder for multivitamins, sponge, folding scoop, folding knife, pot with lid, and carry-bag.

I am intending to do very simple cooking, just boiling water for drinks and cup-a-soup, and for making porridge, so I won't take the Big Sky insulated cozy-pouch. Just the spoon.

Notice the cylindrical shaped orange item -- that is a TOAKS titanium wind shield. I have experimented with various windshields, and I really like this one as it is so light, 16gm including bag, and rolls up small enough to fit in the 115mm diameter pot. Manufacturer's page:
http://toaksoutdoor.com/windscreen2.aspx

Everything fits inside the pot, and the whole thing, including carry-bag, weighs 250gm:


Not too bad, a complete kitchen for 259gm, including the spoon.

There is one other vital item though, the methylated spirits, which is going to double the weight, thereabouts. For an overnighter, or just a few nights, I could use a smaller bottle. I am currently using a 250ml Selleys wood-glue bottle. With almost-full meths, it weighs 220gm.

Here is a photo of the Selleys bottle:

Tags: light

Carry-on backpack

July 19, 2016 — BarryK
A problem with backpacks is they have parts that hang out all over the place. OK when on the back, but not so good otherwise, such as traveling by bus, train or airplane.

I own a Sea to Summit duffle bag, really light (80gm), packs tiny, and just the right size to meet the size requirements for airline carry-on:
http://www.seatosummit.com.au/products/other-essentials/travel-duffle-bag/

Qantas, for example, has published carry-on maximum dimensions of 56x36x23 cm for economy:
http://www.qantas.com/travel/airlines/carry-on-baggage/global/en#carry-on-baggage-allowances

I have been going through my hiking/travel gear, attempting to reduce the weight and improve functionality. I have recently acquired a new backpack, a Zpacks Arc Blast, 45 litre, short-torso (with lumbar-pad and one waist-pouch), weighing just 650gm:
http://www.zpacks.com/backpacks/arc_blast.shtml

My intention is that I be able to insert the backpack inside the duffle bag. The big constraints here are the dimensions, in particular the length.
Only the "short torso" Arc Blast meets my requirement. Fortunately, that size fits me very well, and indeed would fit someone with longer torso.

This photo shows the approximate maximum distance from bottom of waist-belt to anchor-point of shoulder straps, 51cm (or maybe a tad more with some effort). This is with a fairly small bow in the vertical rods of about 30mm.
The anchor-point can be adjusted further down, and I currently have it set about 20mm below the highest point (so about 49cm from bottom of waist-belt):


The main issue though, is the total length of the backpack. It is about 55cm, with the extension section folded down (part of the bag that can extend above the frame).
This is spot-on. A fully-loaded pack, except only filled to height of the frame, fits nicely in the Sea to Summit duffle bag.

Here it is being inserted:


Here I am ready to go:


Of course, I also have the smallest-capacity Arc Blast, rated at 45 litres. That also suits me fine, and is satisfactory even for multi-day treks. But, I travel ultra-light.
Note that Qantas specifies 7kg max, some other airlines specify only 5kg.

But even if you don't want to do carry-on, or can't due to what you have in your backpack (such as stakes), it is great to have all the dangly bits tucked away, and inside a lockable duffle bag, for checked-baggage, bus travel, or whatever.

Tags: light

Nemo Hornet 2P tent

July 11, 2016 — BarryK
I love so much tweaking my hiking gear, aiming to get the weight down, or improve the functionality. Mid-winter here in Western Australia, July 2016, but as Spring approaches, I will be off on another trek.

I have been fine-tuning my tent requirements. The pyramid type, held up by trekking poles, do not do it for me -- apart from the fact I don't use trekking poles, the fundamental shape, with sides sloping sharply inward, seems very inefficient.

I prefer some kind of dome shape, which means curved poles. Free-standing tents are obviously very convenient, which you get with the crossed-over dome design, not with tunnel-design.

There are various not-quite-dome and not-quite-freestanding designs, and I think that some of these are an excellent compromise.

I have just purchased a tent that hits the sweet spot for me. That ideal compromise. Freestanding (kind of), near-vertical walls near the floor (kind of), superb ventilation, dual-skin, excellent entry-exit options, good vestibules (two), lots of room inside, very fast erection, extreme light weight.

This tent is the Nemo Hornet 2P.

Why buy an exotic Cuben Fibre thing without dual skin, with inefficient pyramid shape, while striving for low weight, when the Hornet 2P has none of the limitations, is cheaper, and hardly weighs any more?


I purchased mine from campsaver.com in the US. Paddy Pallin is the exclusive Australian distributor, however they informed me, when I enquired in June, that it is sold out and no new stock until September. Here is their site:
http://www.paddypallin.com.au/nemo-hornet-2p-ultralight-tent.html

...note the AU$649.95 price. Club members get 10% off, and they have bi-annual sales with 20% off. So, I could perhaps get it at AU$520, if I was patient enough. However, campsaver.com had it on sale for US$295, and I used my USA address at myus.com. Ended up paying about AU$510.

If you are an Aussie, I recommend support your local stores. I would have done, if they hadn't been out of stock for such a long time.

Here is the manufacturer's page:
http://www.nemoequipment.com/product/?p=Hornet%202P

There are some reviews that have the first version of the Hornet 2P, which has a 7D fly (outer skin). I have the 2016 version, which has 10D fly. 10D is stronger than 7D, but still incredibly thin fabric.

But Nemo have gone through the entire tent design and reduced everything to the absolute minimum weight. It really is astounding. This is a two-person tent, and poles, fly and inner weigh just 898gm (measured by me) (31.7 ounces). Add six alloy stakes, with bag, at 91gm, and a carry bag at 27gm, brings it to a grand total of 1.016kg (35.86 ounces).

So far, I have only setup this tent in my lounge room. Just checking it out, how to erect, etc. The floor material is only 15D, and I have reservations about whether it will stand up to the rough ground in the Aussie bush. There is a footprint available, but I will probably use my tarp-poncho as a footprint.

Note that I specifically want a "2P" tent, as I want to place my backpack inside the tent. This tent would be very cramped for two people, but a palace for one person.

I will post a proper review after I have taken it out on a trek.

Youtube videos:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdlcd9p6J38
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHdVqrUMuXY

Review:
http://sectionhiker.com/nemo-hornet-2p-ultralight-tent-review/

Review of first version (with 7D fly):
http://www.feedthehabit.com/outdoors/nemo-equipment-hornet-2p-tent-review/

Read more...

Vargo Triad stove

June 15, 2016 — BarryK
I recently reviewed the Packafeather XL alcohol stove:
http://bkhome.org/news/201606/packafeather-xl-stove.html

Another stove that I have recently purchased is the titanium Vargo Triad stove. Website:
http://www.vargooutdoors.com/triad-alcohol-stove.html

What this stove has going for it is simplicity, very rugged, inbuilt stand, and light (only 28gm). If the legs are pressed into the ground, that should make it more stable.

In my XL review, I mentioned trying to cook brown lentils. As the Triad cannot simmer, it just burns full-on or not at all, I decided to test my Big Sky Insulite Food Pouch. The idea is, bring the food to a boil, then transfer the pot into the food pouch, where it will continue to cook, albeit slower.

Here is everything gathered together, the pouch is on the right:


The method to light the stove, is first to fill it to just above the little hole in the centre, light it, then when it heats up, the nozzles around the perimeter will ignite. This process is called priming the stove.
Some online advice is to hold a flame under the stove for a few seconds to speed up the priming, which I did.

This is what the flame looked like at first:


Then I waited, and waited. It took a very long time before the jets ignited, I didn't time it, should have. Probably a couple of minutes. This is in contrast with the XL, which needed no priming time.

Eventually I had a nicely burning stove:


However, what is not apparent from that photo, but is very apparent when I got down lower and looked in, is there is a lot of yellow in the flame. Yellow is a sign of combustion inefficiency. The XL again outshines, as the flame, with pot on top, was totally blue.

When I took the pot off the Triad, the flame was almost totally yellow:


I put the pot into the Insulite pouch, then, as I didn't know how to extinguish the stove, I just watched it until it burnt out.
There is a way to extinguish it, but it doesn't look easy.

Does completing the cooking in the pouch work? Yes and no. I left the pot in the pouch for 1.5 hours and was surprised how hot it stayed. But, that duration was not enough, I put the pot back on a flame for another 10 minutes, then it was soft enough to my liking.

The brown lentils I used are very large. I just happened to have them in the kitchen cupboard. I think that I should have use French Style brown lentils, as they are much smaller (these are grown in Canada, are very tasty, and are sold in Coles).
I'll try the French Style next, see if I can get that cooking time down.

Here is the pouch, with pot in it:


I like the idea of the Insulite pouch. I am thinking that I should have another pot, so that I can boil water, or heat something else, while waiting for the main dish to complete cooking.

Back on the Triad. Well, it does have some things in its favour, as I itemised at the beginning of this post. It doesn't compare well against the XL though.

What I dislike about the Triad is the long priming time, no ability to adjust the flame, inefficient combustion, inability to put in only the amount of fuel that you will need, and it seems difficult to extinguish.

Read more...

Packafeather XL stove

June 13, 2016 — BarryK
Today my eagerly-awaited Packafeather XL alcohol stove arrived.
The outstanding feature of this stove, apart from very light weight, is the cable control of the flame, enabling turning down the heat to simmer the food as required.

The first thing apparent upon opening the box, is that this is indeed the product of a "cottage industry". It is built from used aluminium containers, shows it, with some minor dents -- but, I must emphasize, that in no way detracts from its performance.

This time, I decided to cook lentils. I purchased red lentils and yellow lentils. Hmmm, this is where my very limited cooking experience shows -- I did not know that the yellow lentils need considerably longer to cook than the red lentils.
I also bought Clive Of India hot curry powder. That's it, total ingredients.

Here is everything ready to go:


You can see the XL stove in the middle. Right beside it is its fuel holder. The stove is simply placed on top of the fuel-holder. Just pour methylated spirits in to holder, put the main body of the stove on top. Light it before or after.

The circular disk is just a piece of aluminium from a baking tray (actually, a set of them, only a few dollars) that I bought at Coles. I also cut the windshield from the tray. The manufacturer recommends the disk for extra insulation from the ground. Here is the fuel-holder sitting on the disk:


No priming, it is ready to use immediately. Right off, the flame did look a bit yellow:


However, as soon as I placed the pot on top, it transformed into a beautiful blue:


Oh yeah, the recipe. My scoop holds about 70ml. One level scoop red lentils, one of yellow lentils, five scoops water, half of curry powder.

It came to a boil quickly, and I turned down the flame. Now, the important thing to understand here is that the flame does not decrease immediately. Wait awhile.
A method that seemed OK was to wind the cable clockwise until completely closed (minimum air getting in through the nozzles) then back off a turn or two. This does take practice, because I did extinguish the flame once, when I had the nozzles nearly closed.

The main point though, is that simmering really does work. Though, with my very thin titanium pot, the small concentrated flame in the centre of the pot did result in a patch of burnt food right in the centre. I am not sure how to deal with that, other than stirring the food.

Here is the flame set very low, with my baking-tray wind shield:


On the low flame, I wandered off, and checked back periodically to see how it was going. The yellow lentils took awhile, but eventually it was all mush, and I ate it -- simple recipe, but it tasted good.
Here it is:


Conclusion: it is a great stove, for when you want to actually cook food instead of just boil it.
I think next, I will try brown lentils. They are healthier than red lentils, as they have the skin still on them, but require a lot more cooking. Normally, I would pre-soak them, but I'm going to give it a go not doing that -- see if I can just leave it simmering long enough.

Manufacturer's website:
http://packafeather.com/xlstove.html
My earlier post about alcohol stoves:
http://bkhome.org/news/201606/alcohol-stoves-for-camping.html

Tags: light

Bug net for travelers

June 10, 2016 — BarryK
I have been considering how to reduce the weight of my hiking gear. One considerable item is the tent, weighing anywhere from 700gm to 1.5kg, depending on how much money you want to spend.

I have considered a bug net and tarpaulin combination, and have come up with a very minimal configuration, but perhaps too minimal.

I bought one of these:
http://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/230G-Ultralight-Outdoor-Camping-Tent-Summer-1-Single-Person-Mesh-Tent-Body-Tnner-Tent-Vents/1947325_32646768966.html

Only US$20 including international postage.

I didn't buy this specifically for camping, but for situations where I am traveling and sleeping in shelters, or hotel/hostel rooms.

It is a one-person fully-enclosed bug-net, with waterproof base, slightly raised sides (bathtub design) and two cords to tie it up.
This is what it looks like in its bag:


Claimed weight is 230gm, however, I weighed it at 263gm, including two lengths of cord (that came with it).

If I take it on my next hike on the Bibbulmun Track, in the shelters there is wood framework to tie the cords onto, at least at the head end.
The result is adequate head-space, if I want to read before sleeping:


I felt like there was enough room to roll around in, but perhaps a large (wide) person might not think so.
I fitted in my inflatable mattress and sleeping bag OK.

As well as using it in shelters, it could even be used on top of a bed, to keep bed bugs away. I might take it on my next trip to India, though I was never bothered by bed bugs on previous trips -- it remains as a theoretical possibility.
Mostly, I want protection from mosquitoes.

This bug net could be used outside, and I have been toying with using my Sea To Summit ponch/tarp, tied up like this:


It is just long enough, though there is risk of rain being blown in at the ends. It also requires two conveniently-spaced branches, which might be a challenge.

I would probably carry the poncho anyway, in wet weather, so this combination gives me a tent for only an extra 263gm, plus metal stakes (another 70 - 100gm).

Anyway, this post is my mini-review of the enclosed one-person bug net. Very cheap, well made, light, compact, I can see scenarios where it will be very useful for me.

Read more...

Alcohol stoves for camping

June 06, 2016 — BarryK
I posted a couple of days ago about a simple recipe for the trail, "peas and mash", using my Alocs alcohol stove:
http://bkhome.org/news/201605/peas-and-mash-on-the-trail.html

Here in Australia, we use methylated spirits, readily available everywhere, though in some towns in northern Australia it is kept behind the counter, as there are those who drink it.

I bought my Alocs stove a couple of years ago, from Deal Extreme:
http://www.dx.com/p/locs-portable-camping-alcohol-stove-spirit-burner-black-golden-256330

In its favour, are the simmer-ring (that leaver sticking out) for adjusting the flame down, a screw-on lid with rubber gasket so as to keep left-over fuel, and the stand-cum-wind-shield.
The arguments against it are the wind-shield is not really enough, another is really required, and it is a tad heavy, at 143gm.

I have ordered two more stoves, both due to arrive very soon.
One of these is the Vargo Triad, all titanium, weighing only 28gm. Home:
http://www.vargooutdoors.com/triad-alcohol-stove.html


The main arguments in favour of this stove are the extreme light weight and strength. Against it, it needs a separate wind shield, and there is no means to reduce the flame.
That last one is significant for me -- when I am cooking something, I want to reduce to a simmer after bringing it to a boil. If you want to keep a furious boil going, wasting fuel and possibly burning the pot and food, that's what you will get without a simmer-ring.
Many hikers accept this limitation and work around it.

I bought my Triad from amazon.com. They ship to Australia.

Last, and this is the one that most excites me, is the Packafeather XL stove. Home:
http://packafeather.com/xlstove.html


It weighs only 45gm, and has the neatest flame control of all -- a little knob on the end of a cable.
It does require a separate wind shield, ditto for the two other stoves. I have some thin aluminium for that.
There does seem to be a lot of points in favour of the XL, and I can't, without having actually used it, think of anything against it. All reviews have been positive.

Anyway, the XL should be here in a day or two, and I will post a review, along with another of my culinary creations.

Tags: light