Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Three tiny backpacking stoves: Part 3 and conclusion

Finally, the last backpacking stove I want to talk about is the Jetboil Mighty Mo. This stove is also $49 and weighs the most of the three, 3.3 ounces. it has a similar design to the others and has the same kind of flame control. It also has the piezo lighter like the Giga Power, but has one feature that the other two don't have, a pressure regulator.

The pressure regulator helps with two problems that canister stoves have. The cold and altitude. When fuel canisters get cold it gets difficult for the isobutane (which is a propellent) to push the propane out of the canister. The same thing happens at altitudes above 8000 feet, the decrease in air pressure makes it harder to get fuel out of the canister and the stove can't light or offers an unusable flame. The pressure regulator maintains pressure in the canister making it easier to get fuel out. The short of it is, the stove works better in the cold and at higher altitudes. But this adds a bit of weight which is why this is the heaviest of the three. It also packs the biggest of the three, but honestly, by a couple of tenths of an inch.

For the third test, 72º water again, with a canister that read as 90% full. Lets see how it did:

2 minutes and 3 seconds. For all practical purposes it was the same as the pocket rocket. I started the timer a second late, and I think it was boiling more robustly a moment after I turned off the timer. I guess the next time I do this I will need a digital thermometer to really be exactly sure when it reaches 212º. The other part of this, is the pressure regulator. I need to do this test on a cold day to see if there is a difference, and we will do that this winter. But first I want to do one more test:

At the end of the test the canister read as 80% full. I wanted to do one more, with a full canister. I also used a 230 gram canister as well. Let's see if that makes a difference. 2 minutes and 3 seconds is the time to beat.

...and it was actually 2 minutes and 23 seconds.... slower. Maybe there is a variable I am missing. I actually decided to test the pocket rocket on the larger canister, and I came up with 2 minutes 6 seconds. Very consistent times.

But at the end of the day - a warm 70 degree day - both the pocket rocket and the Mighty Mo are great stoves. Lets check back in December to see how they do in the cold!

But wait, there is a bonus test! Just out of curiosity, because I had everything set up, I decided to test my very old Jetboil, and see how it did. The final number 2 minutes and 52 seconds. Pretty respectable time for a stove that is about ten years old and has a lot of miles on it. It is actually faster than the GigaPower stove.

Okay, a couple of things for clarity, I made sure the pot was cooled down between each test. I made sure the water temperature was the same before each test. To really do this correctly, I should have done each test with a brand new canister. The jetboil is using a different pot than the others so that effects the boiling times.

All of these stoves did a great job, and any of them would be a good choice. I was really hoping for something definitive. Maybe the cold will do that.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Three tiny backpacking stoves: Part 2

In our comparison of tiny backpacking stoves, our next option is the Snow Peak GigaPower 2. The follow up to the GigaPower, the new stove is slightly lighter (it weighs 3.2 ounces) compared to the original at 3.75 ounces. Besides that change in weight I can see no difference between GigaPower 1 and 2. They both list the same boil time for one liter of water, 4 minutes 48 seconds, which is significantly slower than the Pocket Rocket. They also say a canister will burn for 1 hour and 25 minutes, which is more than the 60 minutes listed for the Pocket rocket.

Something I particularly like about the GigaPower is that it has four pot support arms instead of three. It is also the shortest of the three stoves making it more stable combined with the slightly better grip on the pot it is supporting.

It offers similar flame control to the other stoves we are comparing and costs $49. But, it offers one feature that the Pocket Rocket 2 doesn't have. A piezo lighter, so to light the stove you open the valve and press a button, which in my book is well worth the $5 higher price.

Lets see how it does in the boil time test. Once again, 72º water, 100% full fuel canister. Same pot, same conditions.

3 minutes and 24 seconds! Significantly slower than the pocket rocket. A minute and 20 seconds slower, you could almost boil another two cups of water with the pocket rocket. Color me surprised. At this point you have to decide whether the time penalty is worth the piezo lighter.

At the end of this test I weighed the canister again, and after no changes for the first two tests it was now reading 90% full after the third test.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Three tiny backpacking stoves: Part 1

Canister stoves are by far the most popular stoves currently being used by backpackers. Their light weight, low cost and ease of use make them very popular. I wanted to highlight three of the most popular stoves and what differentiates them.

The first is the MSR Pocket Rocket 2. The follow up to what is probably, the most popular stove in history, the original Pocket Rocket. The PR2 is $45 and weighs all of 2.6 ounces. It offers great flame control, and easy use. When it replaced the original Pocket Rocket they made it ever so slightly lighter and changed the design of the pot support arms, which makes the stove pack smaller. So it is smaller and lighter than the original.

It comes in a small plastic case, or can be stored inside any number of pots with a fuel canister. Pots like the GSI minimalist, soloist, etc and the MSR line of small pots. The pot in the video is the GSI Halulite 1.1 liter boiler.

This stove was a great update to a popular stove, with the best thing being the way the pot supports now fold, making the whole stove pack smaller.

The specs listed online show the average boil time for a liter of water is 3 minutes and 30 seconds. But who boils a liter? Lets see how fast it can boil 2 cups of water, which is a much more practical volume.

starting with 72ºF water and a full fuel canister: The first time I used the lid, and at 3 minutes exactly it was a rolling boil. I decided to do it again with the lid off so we could see when it started boiling, and what the time difference between the two was.

The second time the canister still measured 100% full and once again the water was 72ºF:
At an amazing 2 minutes and 9 seconds I had a rolling boil. Seriously fast. This completely negates that first test with the lid on (because it should be faster with the lid on). Of course this is ideal conditions, no wind, a 70º room. But two minutes and nine seconds is really fast. The fuel canister still read as 100% full using my Jetboil Jet gauge.

Tune in two days to see how the Snow Peak Giga Power 2 did in the same test.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Paddling Otaku is now Adventure Otaku

This day has been long coming.

With the coming release of my latest book - which will be available on the iBook store for iPad and Amazon for Kindle - it was time to make a change. I no longer want to limit myself to paddle sports. Kayaking is still my first love, but for a long time I have worked in other sectors of the outdoor industry. I have spent most of the last twenty years teaching in the outdoors, it is time to let some of that knowledge out in this venue.

Otaku is a Japanese term, meaning someone with an obsessive interest. This website has been the face of my paddling obsession, but this entire time I have been almost equally involved in other outdoor pursuits. Camping, hiking, backpacking, wilderness medicine, stand up paddle boarding and navigation are where I live. So it is time to let those activities have some equal time.

There will be more gear review and tests. A little more delving into trip planning, to coincide with the release of GO! Coverage of other outdoor sports that I currently teach as well as entering into a few new arenas for teaching.

Got something you want to know about? A piece of gear, a destination, a skill. Let me know. If I don't have the answer I know someone who does.

You can find your way here through or

There is a lot to come, so stay tuned in.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Volunteers Needed!


No, really, I need your help.

With the pending release of my next book, "GO! Planning Weekend to month long Adventures" I am branching off into some new territory. While I have been teaching in the outdoors for close to two decades trip planning as a course topic is new. Eventually I would like the offering the course type in a weekend long, in person, workshop. I would also like to offer it in an online version.

Before I do either of those things I have to finalize a curriculum, and specific exercises for the workshops. I am in the early planning stages of that curriculum, but I want to test some things out. So I am looking for some volunteers in the central North Carolina area to do a one day workshop. It will give me an opportunity to play with the curriculum and see what resonates with students.

The best part of this is you can take this workshop for free!

If you are interested, drop my an email at AdventureOtaku(AT)

Yes, that is a new email address. Big changes coming.


Friday, July 6, 2018

Solar for backpackers

I get this question all the time. "I am going on a four day backpacking trip, and I need to charge my phone. Tell me about solar options."

There a large number of problems with this whole situation. The first and the biggest is, maybe you don't need that much access to your phone? Maybe the point of backpacking is to get away from your phone? The counter argument is "I am using it as my camera." Not surprisingly I have a problem with this answer as well. Yes, phones have become amazing cameras. Truly. Easy to use, incredible resolution. Your phone isn't particularly waterproof , which of course can be mitigated with a waterproof phone case, but the real problem is this. If something bad were to happen, you really should have a working phone with a full battery.

But, okay, you're going to bring your phone and you need to charge it. People have this image of "I will put a solar panel on the back of my backpack and it will charge my phone while I hike." I hate to be negative, but a solar panel needs to be facing the sun, which means it really needs to be on the top of your pack, and it needs to be pointed directly at the sun to be as efficient as possible.

Gregory actually released an update of their classic Baltoro backpack, with a solar panel and battery mounted on the top of the pack. They did this in conjunction with Goal Zero.

You see how the sun is directly in front of the hiker, and the solar panel is on the back? Yeah, this setup doesn't work very well. A setup like this will work best at 12 noon and there can't be any trees.

Okay, so that won't work so well, but how about on rest days. I can plant the solar panel in the sun, and charge my phone directly. This isn't a bad idea, you do need to stay on top of it though, about every twenty minutes it would be best if re-align the panel with the sun. It is all about maximum efficiency. This is essentially how we charged batteries during the AGAP trip. every 4 days or so we would take a rest day, and charge batteries, both literally and figuratively. OH! But in the first line of this post I said four days. There probably won't be any rest days.

But if there were, you have to take into account that it will take a few hours to charge the battery in your phone, and during that time you can't actually use your phone.

Okay, option 2 is a little different. You don't actually need a solar panel. really all you need is a battery. For a four day trip how many times are you going to need to charge your phone? twice maybe? Unfortunately we need to do a little math.

An iPhone 6 plus battery has a capacity of 2915 milliamp hours (mAH). That is what we need to charge. If we take a battery pack with us it needs to be able to charge that twice, and good first option is the Goal Zero Flip 20. It has a battery capacity of 5200 milliamp hours (mAH). With this size battery we will just charge it before we go on our trip, and at night when we wouldn't be using the phone anyway, by plugging it into the battery via USB cable. This is far less expensive than a solar panel and far more practical. It costs less too!

If you need more power than that, the Sherpa 40 holds a whopping 12000 mAH. That is enough to charge an iPad mini 2.5 times.

This is essentially how we did the AGAP trip, we had two Sherpa power units and a large solar panel. On rest days we charged the sherpas, and at night we charged our batteries from the sherpas. It worked flawlessly. Let me know how you solve your backcountry power problems.

One final tip, if you are bringing your phone into the backcountry to use as a camera, keep it in airplane mode. This will dramatically extend your devices battery life, and it will also help you separate from the front county. Which is the reason we are in the backcountry after all, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

How to fit a backpack

For the past 12 years I have been employed by a major outdoor retailer, and a big part of what I do is training new staff. One of my specialties is training staff in backpack fitting. I have trained welll over one hundred people and I estimate that I have done between eight and twelve thousand backpack fittings. I think it is one of the most important things I do. If your backpack isn't comfortable you won't be having a good time in the backcountry.

The first thing you have to understand is that backpacks are a lot like shoes. They may look good on the wall, and they may be your buddies favorite. But until you actually try them on and see how they feel you can't tell if they are right for you. People come in all shapes and sizes, and backpack fitting is about how it feels, and how the backpack carries a load. If it doesn't feel good on your back, and doesn't efficiently transfer the weight of the load onto your hips, it doesn't matter how many awards the backpack has won.

Next, you have to understand that backpacks have two sizes. A volume - expressed in cubic liters - and a size as it relates to its wearer, small, medium or large. The volume size of your pack is going to depend on the size of the gear you are putting in it, and is dictated by what we call the 'big three.' The big three is your sleeping bag, pad and tent. (some people say the big three is backpack, sleep system and tent, but for our purposes the backpack size is going to be determined by the other parts of the equation. So I don't include it in the big three.)

If you're an older back packer, like myself, your brain may prefer to work in cubic inches. You can turn cubic liters to cubic inches by multiplying by 64. a 50 liter pack (multiply 50 by 64) is a 3200 cubic inch pack.

Traditionally, backpackers will buy a backpack and then fill it with gear. The big three and the other gear needed. But I think this is backwards. If the volume of your backpack is going to be determined by the things going into it, why buy the backpack first? You risk having a backpack that is either too large (you will end up carrying more gear than needed, which means more weight than needed) or too small (you won't be able to carry all that is needed.) So what I generally suggest is that people buy their big three first, and then their backpack. The size and weight of the big three will largely be dictated by price. As you spend more money, your gear will weigh less and pack smaller. The depressing phrase we use in the industry is, the more you pay, the less you get.

When I started working in this field - over a decade ago - we regularly sold backpacks that ranged from 65 liters to 85 liters, this was the normal range. We stocked packs as large as 105 liters and could get packs as big as 115 liters. Today, after a decade of advancement in materials and design the bulk of the packs I sell are 45 to 65 liters. We still have packs - a few - that range up to 85 liters but I no longer have immediate access to packs bigger than that. The bulk of the AT thru hikers I fit for packs are buying packs in the 50 to 65 liter range. I also see people who started the AT with larger packs and by the time they get to me they are shopping again but this time for a smaller pack.

So you have a pack in mind you would like to try, in an appropriate volume, but how do you know what size (small, medium or large) you actually need. Well, to use the shoe analogy again, you need to get your torso measured, just like you would get your feet measured before buying shoes (you do get your feet measured, right?!) A torso measurement is best accomplished with a tool designed for the purpose. Because you are measuring from your iliac crest, on the side of your body, to C7, the large bump on the back of your neck.

It is almost impossible to measure yourself and difficult to measure someone else using just a tape measure. Any reputable backpacking store should have a measuring device to use for a torso measurement - they are provided by the backpack manufacturers at no cost. If your retailer doesn't have one, you need to find a new shop to frequent. The torso measurement spans from 16 inches to 21 inches. 16 and 17 are "small" 18 and 19 are "Medium" and 20 and 21 are "large." These measurements are not gender specific. Your torso measurement is also not correlated to height. You can be 6'4" and be a medium (with long legs) or 5'8" and be a large. Most men, about 80% are mediums. 15% precent of men are Larges, with the remainder being smalls. Most women (about 80% as well) are smalls, with 15% being extra small and 5% being medium.

Time to try on a pack in both the size that suits our torso and the volume that will work with our gear. Don't ever try on a pack empty. Let me repeat that. DON'T EVER TRY ON A PACK THAT IS EMPTY! It is a complete waste of time. Every pack feels good empty. To try on a pack the retailer you are visiting should have both pillows and sandbags to load a pack with weight. When I see a person take a pack of the wall, without checking its size, and then putting it on without weight, or making any adjustment to the pack I know immediately the level of knowledge of the person trying on the pack.

To be a knowledgable customer, come into your outfitter and say "I am shopping for a pack in 50 to 65 liter range and I am a medium, measuring 18 inches." If you don't know your size, say "I need a pack, and I need my torso measured."

When I do a pack fitting I generally open the divider between sleeping bag compartment and main compartment and the put two large pillows in the pack (I find it easier to stuff the pack from the top than to put one in the bottom and one in the top.) Then on top of the pillows I put a ten pound sand bag. This should be right behind the shoulder blades of the pack wearer, close to their center of gravity. (incidentally, this is mimicking the way you should pack your backpack for a trip. Heavy stuff right behind your shoulder blades, light stuff - like your sleeping bag at the very bottom) I then close the pack and tighten all the compression straps snugly. Then, before allowing the wearer to put on the pack, I loosen all the straps. This forces you - the wearer - to tighten the straps for themselves instead of just buckling them and going, which prevents them from just assuming they are set correctly. After loosening all the straps I confirm that the wearer knows where their iliac crest is - the top of the hip bone on their side - and I tell them that the iliac crest should be in the middle of the hip belt on the pack. I have them put on the pack, and get the hip belt in the correct location, and t then have them tighten it. We are then going to work our way up the pack tightening straps. Shoulder straps are next, The sternum strap is optional, and I tighten the load lifter straps above the wearers shoulders.

A lot of people want more weight in the pack when they are trying it on. Some pack fitters I know use 15 pounds, I generally use 10. Here is the thing. We are using a sandbag. Dead weight. Yes I can put 30 pounds of sand in your pack so you can see what it feels like, but it isn't going to feel like a real load. Gear just feels different. But 10 pounds is enough weight to that if there is a fit problem, I will be able to see it, and the wearer will be able to feel it. If they still want 30 pounds of dead weight, I will add it after an initial fitting.

Shoulder straps should be snug, but not tight. The sternum strap pulls the shoulder straps towards the center of the body, and it keeps them from rolling off the outside of the shoulders. It is optional, most people like it, but it makes me feel like I can't breath. Load lifter straps are the straps that get people in trouble.

Load Lifters go from the top of the shoulder strap to the top portion of the pack bag itself, usually connecting to the frame. When someone first puts on the pack I make them just snug. There used to be a rule that load lifters had to be at a 45 degree angle, but this is no longer true. With some packs they go straight back, and frequently with the current line of Osprey packs they may angle up at more than 45 degrees. The tighter you pull the load lifters the more it pulls the top of the pack towards your center of gravity - which feels good. The pack feels like it is part of you. But, the tighter those straps are, the more weight is shifted from your hips to the front of your shoulders, which will quickly fatigue your shoulders. This is the strap that you want to be adjusting throughout the day. If the terrain is flat, leave them looser, and allow the weight of the pack to be on your hips. If the terrain is steep, and you are using your hands for balance it is time to tighten them up. When you are walking, if you feel the pack wobble back and forth, they need to be a little tighter.

When someone comes to me and says "this pack hurts me when I wear it" the first thing I check is the load lifters, and 90% of the time they are too tight. Because it feels good when you pull them tighter, people do it all day, until they are completely tight, and their shoulders are exhausted. We want 50 to 60% of the packs weight on our hips.

Once the wearer has the pack on and straps are adjusted I check three things. I physically confirm - by sticking a finger into the space between waist belt and wearer - that their iliac crest is below the top of the waist belt. You have to physically touch the persons hip bone. Another good indicator of waist belt position is the location of the buckle. It should be over, or at least close to the belly button. Next, can I slide my fingers under the the shoulder strap with only a little resistance? Too much resistance means there is too much weight on the wearers shoulders, no resistance means the pack is probably too high. This is almost impossible to do on yourself. Find someone to do it for you. Finally, I check the location of the buckle that tightens the shoulder strap. It should be closer to the waist belt than the arm pit. This is a general indicator of pack size versus wearer size. If it is all the way down at the waist belt (meaning the shoulder strap is as tight as it can get, or close to it) it is an indicator that the pack might be too big. If it is up near the arm pit there is a chance it will rub the wearer while they are walking! - This is an indicator that the pack is too small.

Then you should take a walk in this pack for at least ten minutes. Is anything rubbing? pinching? binding? if it is doing it a little now, how will it feel after ten miles? Perhaps this isn't the pack for you.

Some packs offer adjustability in the back panel itself. I generally only have to adjust this if your size is on the border between medium and large or small and medium. Likewise, some packs have removable shoulder straps and waist belts. You generally only have to swap out sizes if your waist size and torso size is greatly different, or if you have particularly broad shoulders.

I generally discourage people from trying on more than three packs in a day. I find the memories of what was good and what wasn't gets muddy. If you don't have a definitive answer after three packs, take a photo of the tag of the pack that felt the best and come back in a couple of days and try it again, and then continue trying on other packs to compare to your previous best. Keep notes on what you tried, and what felt good and what didn't. Also, when going to try on a pack, dress like you are going hiking. I have had people come in for fittings who are dressed inappropriately, and let's just say it is awkward for everyone.

Here are the bullet points:

• Get measured
• Try on a pack with weight in it
• Check (or have checked) three land marks (hip bone, shoulder, and shoulder strap buckle)

Do everything you can - without sacrificing safety - to keep your pack weight low. We used to use the range of a quarter to a third of your body weight, is an effective load for you to carry. Today, using modern gear this is way to high of a number. In general, for most weekend backpackers, your pack weight should be between 23 to 35 pounds. I did 3 days on the AT last year, and my pack weight was 32 pounds with real food (not much lighter freeze dried) and a heavyish stove - an msr whisperlite.

Finding the right pack fit takes some time, and patience. But I have yet to find someone that can't get a good, comfortable fit out of a backpack. It is about finding something that fits your shape. Let me know if anything needs clarification.