Thursday, February 28, 2013

How Do You Make Coffee....

There are two things about the outdoors that I believe firmly. The first is, I don't care how beautiful the place you are is, if you aren't sleeping well, you won't have a good time. The same is true for coffee. I know the difference is that everyone sleeps, but not everyone drinks coffee, but in the outdoors there is something about a good hot cup of coffee to get the morning started. I should point out, that even though I drink decaf, I still believe this is true.

I was originally a backpacker, and I remember doing a backpacking trip with my brother in the 80's. We packed in instant coffee, and non-dairy creamer. I remember adding both of those to a cup while waiting for water to boil. Then adding sugar, and looking at the mix of powders in my cup and thinking there must be a better way.

I first got lured into the world of kayaking because I knew the food was better. Simply put, you don't have to carry anything on your back, if it fits in my kayak I can bring it along. I have even been known to pack in a jetboil in addition to my whisperlite just to make coffee. I am sure you have seen the little table I cook with, it just makes the world so much more civilized. So here are some options for coffee, from simple, to a little more demanding.

Java Juice -  I don't care what this review says, I don't think this stuff is very good. Simple to prepare, add a packet to hot water, and you are done. It is a coffee extract, I don't really know what that means. But I think it has a horrible after taste. It is however, better than nothing.

Starbucks Via - This stuff is pretty good. It is what we used on the inside passage trip, and it worked pretty well. Again, just add hot water. Good flavor, no funky after taste. My only complaint is this, one package makes 8 ounces of coffee. I generally used two for a large mug of coffee, and since they generally come in packets of three I need to do math to make sure I have enough. Hey, Starbucks! Make the packages double the size.

At home I use this French Press - It works beautifully. Add grounds to the bottom, pour in hot water. Let it steep for four minutes. Plunge, and pour. I think the french press is the way to go. They make a smaller one, but it is still a little big for paddling. The container is double wall, so it keeps things reasonably hot. On trips I use this little guy. works beautifully.

This silly little contraption works well too. Fill it with grinds, place it on top of a nalgene bottle or a mug and pour hot water through it. It is nice and small and light weight, but you see that lid? It just sort of sits there, it doesn't actually connect. They should make it snap on, so you don't loose it.

Ive used this too! Works beautifully. simple. light. awesome. one cup at a time though, so a little time consuming. There are dozens of variations on this product, and they all work well. This one even folds flat!

I pack in ground beans, but a buddy of mine uses this. A little hard to hold, while you grind. He finds that you have to hold it between your legs tightly and twist the crank. This is for the person who is serious about his coffee.

This is classic, and makes wonderful coffee. BUT, it takes a while. it doesn't work well on a stove because of how long it takes, you will use too much fuel. But it is awesome over a campfire.

If you are using freeze dried instant coffee, like folgers or maxwell house, you owe it to yourself to try one of these options with real beans. There is just no comparison.

So, those are coffee options. If you use a different option, or there is one I missed, head over to my facebook page and let me know. Now here is another video from the 'craftsmen' series. Just to get you in the mood for coffee.

STUMPTOWN from Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Overview Effect

Wouldn't it be amazing if we could stop fighting with each other and the world around us, and finally realize we are all one people? If you have been to space then you know that is already true.

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Biolite stove review

For the past two years we have been waiting for the Biolite stove. It appeared to fanfare on and people have been waiting patiently ever since. For those of you who have managed to avoid the hype, this is a stove that uses sticks and twigs and pine cones for fuel instead of a petroleum based fuel source. People have gone crazy for the idea, and while a few have surfaced, they are finally about to hit mass release. I managed to get my hands on one, and thought this would be a good opportunity for a review.

Most people who are interested in this stove are backpackers. While I do backpack, as you are aware, I am mainly a paddler. I will try and cover both of those bases.

The Biolite stove is beautifully manufactured, and is about the same size as the Jetboil Flash (or the original Jetboil PCS which is what I use.) This is where the comparison ends.

The jetboil uses a standard propane/iso-butane canister. By the scale in my kitchen it weighs 1 pound 5 ounces. (21 ounces) with one container of fuel in the pot. The Biolite weighs 34 ounces by my scale. So this is a heavy little stove. The argument would be that you don't have to carry fuel, but with that sort of thinking you could carry a jetboil and three fuel canisters for the same amount of weight. My real stove of choice is an MSR Whisperlite. My Whisperlite weighs 11 ounces without fuel. 18 ounces of fuel (in an MSR 24 liquid ounce bottle) will keep me cooking for about four days - maybe longer - and still weighs less than the Biolite. But as a paddler I don't really care about weight. If it fits in my boat I can bring it.

Here is how the Biolite works. You set it up and gather sticks. Light a fire starter that it comes with, fill the chamber with sticks and add the fire starter. After ten seconds you hit a button on the side of the stove which turns on a small fan. The fan is powered by the heat of the fire in the chamber. The heat creates electricity which charges a battery. This battery controls the fan, but also can be routed to a USB port to charge an electronic device.

So this morning I gathered sticks, and set myself up to do a test. I wanted to boil two cups of water on the Biolite, and two cups of water in the jet boil. I was going to time how long it took for me to get flames and then how long a hot fire would take to boil water. Biolite claims that it will boil a liter of water in 4.5 minutes which is a respectable time. But most people aren't boiling a liter of water. They are boiling two cups, because two cups of water is the amount that most freeze dried food uses. My jet boil boils two cups of water in about 3 minutes. (It actually just took 3 minutes and 33 seconds to boil two cups of cold water on a 45 degree day, with a canister that was almost empty. With a new canister it is probably around 2 minutes 45 seconds. )

This is where the problem started. Last night it rained. It rained a lot. I couldn't find dry twigs. I had no problem find twigs that snapped easily, but they were wet. I figured I would try it anyway. I followed the directions and got nothing but smoke for 7 minutes.

In those seven minutes I did some thinking. I tend to paddle in cold and wet places. Most of the places I paddle I would have a hard time finding fuel for this stove. For instance, my last paddling trip near cape lookout in NC I wouldn't have been able to find suitable wood.

If I were backpacking I would have no problem finding fuel, but do I really want a two pound stove? two pounds before a pot? I don't think so. It is a very cool item. It is beautifully made. It is the first real innovation in the stove industry since the jet boil. But I don't think this is the end all, be all of stoves. I think Biolite is doing some amazing things, and I think this is the coolest. But I am not ready to make the move to this stove just yet.

A couple of other things that occurred to me, this stove is probably going to make the bottom of my pots black. not the worst thing in the world, but messy. This stove offers no flame control - besides the rudimentary 'fan on hi' or 'fan on low'

It also occurred to me during the seven minute wait, that suppose I wasn't using this to cook? Suppose I used this simply for power generation. At Max power Biolite says it will put out 5W via USB. But also says for long term, it only puts out 2W. Two watts wont charge my iPad, and it will charge my Iphone slowly. I need to see if it will charge my GoPro.

Yesterday at work - before the rain - we did light it up. With Dry fuel it lit quickly and easily and produced a lot of heat. I am waiting for the day to warm up, but honestly, if not being able to find dry fuel will keep it from working, what will I do backpacking when it rains? Or paddling when it rains?  That for me is a deal breaker.


I got up early before work to give it one more shot. The sticks I had collected had been sitting in the sun since the day before. I want this stove to work the way they say it does. My collected twigs and sticks were all gathered from the ground the day before. They were brittle, but yesterday had gotten a  good coating of water. I figured 24 hours would be enough to dry them out.

I repeated the process. Broken twigs in the stove, a fire starter. Wait ten seconds. Fan on. 45 seconds in, I had a good flame. Put the fan on high. A minute and a half in, I had a good fire. At three minutes I decided to get a pot with two cups of water to see how long the boil time was. When I came back from inside I could have sent smoke signals with what was coming out of the stove. I used a stick to stir the fire around a little and added some fresh fuel. This cured things and I had a new raging fire. I placed my pot on the stove and added the water. I had nice flames licking up around the pot. At one minute and 35 seconds I had steam. At 4 minutes I had steam. At 5 minutes I carefully removed the pot and saw I would have to add more fuel. Still no rolling boil. This is where I gave up.

I do think that the wood was still too wet. With a good fuel source I am sure this works perfectly. With a questionable fuel source you have a long slow night of cooking ahead of you. I think this is an incredibly brilliant product with some very serious limitations. Weight being one, and usability in bad weather being the other? You certainly couldn't use it winter camping. People talk to me about this stove like it's a revolution. For me, the revolution in stoves was released about a year ago, and no one noticed. It's the MSR whisperlite Universal that will burn just about any kind of fuel. If my 20 year old whisperlite would stop working I would buy one in a heart beat, and it is only about 30 dollars more than the Biolite.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A tale of three fleece, and a primaloft jacket

When I am doing overnight trips from my kayak I get into routines. One of my most consistent routine is the last thing I do before getting into my kayak in the morning, and the first thing I do after getting out of my kayak is take of cold, wet paddling gear and put on a warm, dry fleece. Self care is a very important thing.

Over the years the fleece that I put on to get warm after a cold day on the water has changed, and in thinking about the changes in that fleece it is an interesting view in the way clothing - for the outdoors - has changed. 

First, it is important to understand that a lot of the time, regardless of who sells it, fleece is fleece. Most of the high quality fleece is made by Malden Mills. Most of the fleece today is made from recycled beverage bottles. Also keep in mind that most of the zippers in the world are made by YKK, but that is another story. In the pile above you will see two fleece jackets made by patagonia. A third made Mountain Hardwear. The fourth jacket in the pile isn't fleece at all, and we will get there in a couple of hundred words. 

The first fleece I wore on paddling trips was the patagonia Azteca. This fleece still exists - though not in this pattern - and is called the snap neck T - Still one of my favorite fleeces and it is slightly over 20 years old. A great fleece. A great layering piece, and when I wear it now people always compliment it. I am generally looking for a fleece to do two simple things. Keep me warm, and take up as little space as possible in a dry bag. This fleece did both pretty well, but I realized a flaw with it. On a windy beach the wind went right through it. If the wind goes through it, it takes your warmth with it. 

Here is a test you can do. Put on a fleece and pull the sleeve over your hand. Then blow on your now fleece covered palm. If you can feel wind, then the wind will go right through it. A fleece like this - that the wind penetrates - is still great under a shell jacket, but on its own you will be cold when the wind is blowing. 

My second criteria - pack small in a dry bag - was pretty much met. Here you can see that it takes about half of a 5 liter dry bag. 

It worked well, but I wanted something that would do better in the wind. I Decided that it was time for me to invest in the 'mother of all fleeces' the Patagonia Retro cardigan. This fleece used a 'fur' like surface to help block the wind. After all, that is what fur on an animal does, so why not do it on a fleece? It worked well. It wasn't wind proof, but it was far more wind resistant than the snap neck T. the down side of this particular fleece was that it was expensive (I think it was near $265.00 when I bought it, though it is only $199 on Patagonia's website today) and it didn't work so well in a dry bag. 

But it looked so cool! I felt like I belonged in a Patagonia ad when I wore it. But then around 2006 technology took over. I recognized that I couldn't afford to give up that much space to a jacket, and I needed to replace it with something that was still warmer in the wind, and packed smaller. But if fleece was fleece no matter who 'made' it what could I do? Well, I found the Mountain Hardwear windstopper tech jacket. Essentially MH took a micro fleece - a different kind of weave that isn't as bulky - and laminated a windproof shell to the inside. Try the hand test with this fleece and you will feel nothing. 100 percent windproof. Keep in mind that windproof works both ways. If it keeps wind out, it also traps air in, so even though this was a thinner fleece it would be much warmer because it was using my own heat trapped inside of the jacket to keep me warm. And look how well it did in a dry bag. 

The smallest, and the warmest, by far. This became my chosen layering piece for quite a few years. It did well in every environment, packed small, looked good. It was a winner. But then I started hearing murmurs about something better, and this wasn't a fleece at all. This was primaloft. Primaloft is essentially synthetic down. Originally created for the US Army who wanted a light synthetic alternative to down. Primaloft is all of that. Compressible like down, and completely hydrophobic. And check this out.

It doesn't look that much smaller, because it has so much loft that by the time I got into position to take the photo it had repuffed itself in the bag. Here is a look with the bag sealed.

This five liter dry bag is actually a bit big for it. It is probably a third smaller than the mountain hardwear jacket and just as wind proof. This has become my fleece of choice and it isn't even a fleece! The jacket in particular that I am using is the REI Revel cloud jacket, but it could just as easily be the Mountain Hardwear Compressor jacket or The North Face Redpoint jacket. Give it a try, I don't think you will be disappointed.....

UPDATE - I misidentified my Patagonia Retro Cardigan, as a Retro-X Cardigan. Thank you Anonymous commenter.