Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another note in favor of wood stoves

Much has been written about fuel consumption: here and here. (@BPL, membership required) These two articles are a few of my personal favorites there, and are worth the price of membership alone. I too have agonized over the concept, especially with canister and white gas stoves.

In substance, the articles attempt to answer a seemingly simple question: For any cooking system, how much fuel do I need initially (or per re-supply) if I need to boil X units of water per day? Add this fuel to the weight of the cooking system, and you have initial carry weight. The articles are focused on the lightest models in each stove category (Esbit, Alcohol, top-mount canister, remote canister, integrated canister i.e. JetBoil and white gas), but the concept is easily extrapolated to any stove. The study measures the initial carry weight as a function of fuel consumption plus the stove, windscreen, empty fuel bottle and heat reflector, if any. Initial carry weight does not include the weight of any pot, because they are may be vary with the trip.

With the BushBuddy and other woodstoves, these articles are useful for comparison only. The BushBuddy's initial carry weight is varied only by the minimal weight of the firestarting tabs you use. A wood stove's initial carry weight without fuel is less than all the stoves in BPL's study except the alcohol and Esbit stoves. When the fuel weight of the stoves are added, the initial carry weight increases above and beyond the Bushbuddy's initial carry weight (5.1, stove + 1.13, sparker + .25, tabs + 1, sack, estimated = 7.48) once you are boiling more than 10 pints for an alcohol stove or ~12 pints for Esbit tabs. (See Table 8). These numbers become easier to meet as the distance between resupplies increases, the number of hikers increases or the amount of pints required per day increases, naturally. For initial carry weights for boiling less than 10 or 12 pints, we are dealing with but a few ounces. This is probably negligible in all but the most stringent gear requirements.

And you get bonus points for style.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Quick notes from the morning

I spent the morning with a friend from BPL at Afton State Park this morning: here's some quick gear notes.

First, I got a good look at the Bushbuddy Ultra, a wood-burning stove made in Canada by Fritz Handel. In short, it is simply an amazing piece of work. The stove is double-walled, with air vents on the bottom of the outer wall and the top of the inner wall. Thus, air enters the chamber between the walls, pre-heats, and dumps into the burner area. Wood sits on a durable grate, and because of the stove's venting design, it burns cleanly and leaves little ash. It does leave soot on pots, but does not kick off smoke. One note: the stove must be protected inside your pack because of its thin walls. The best option is to nest it in your pot: place a bandanna over the top of your pot. Put the Bushbuddy on the bandanna and push it inside the pot. Your firestarter and tinder tabs can go inside the stove's fire pot and then the lid can go on. Simple, efficient and beautiful.

Second, a great method to make fire-starting tabs involves Vaseline, cotton balls and a double boiler. Most outdoor guides note that Vaseline mixed with cotton balls is a great fire starter, but few mention the mess. Here's a simple method to make rockstar fire tabs. First, cut your cotton balls in half. Then melt Vaseline in your double boiler, and then dip your cotton balls in the Vaseline. They will soak up the petroleum-based Vaseline, and you can put them in a waterproof sack, such as an Aloksak. To start, hit them with some sparks from a sparker. (Hat tip: Dan Cunningham @ BPL.)

Third, the DWR on the shell fabric of my MB Inner Down Parka is more than sufficient to ward off a brief rainstorm or misting.

Finally, I got to put my BPL Stix to a brief test. As expected, they are a joy to walk with and hardly noticable in my hands. They are solid enough to plant hard on an uphill or brace on a downhill. In addition, I could put my weight on the straps and not need to grip the handle. I removed the mud baskets, too. (The poles come with mud and snow baskets.) So far, so good.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

If trekking poles could be sexy...

...then BPL's Stix would definitely be sexy. I recently picked up a pair of lightly used 115 cm poles from a BPL forumite. They ring in at 8.75 oz with mud baskets (I removed the mud baskets last night with the assistance of a pliers, and have not weighed the baskets themselves to account for the difference). This is far less than than the weight of my bombproof BD Spires, which ring in at 20.74 oz i.e. both Stix weigh less than one Spire!

As one of the few sets of poles out there that are marketed to ultralight hikers, they are designed with utter simplicity in mind. Also out there for options are Gossamer Gear's LightTrek series and Titanium Goat's Adjustable Goat Poles. The BPL's are heavier than other poles, but they do have a traditional wrist strap. Andrew Skurka uses them, although sans baskets and straps.

I haven't tested them, yet. More later when that comes.

Finally, I may be getting a pair of GG LightTrek 3 soon; if so, I'll do some comparative product testing and report back.

Midwest Mountaineering - best place to meet men?

Seriously. Midwest Mountaineering was voted the best place to meet straight single men by the Twin Cities' alternative weekly, City Pages. (They also rate the best place to meet single gay men, so no discrimination there.) The honor (?) came as part of their annual "Best of the Twin Cities" edition.

Stereotypes aside, it is analogous to boys in junior high taking home economics to meet girls.

What think?

(In redemption, they were also voted Best Sporting Goods)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Trail running = hard

Afton State Park evened the score this weekend. It is Tuesday, nearly 48 hours after my ~12 mile trail run up and down the park's hills, and my quads were bothered this evening by a slow 5.25 mile jog.

I now understand the phenomenon of "Dead Quad," where one's quadriceps muscles are so shot from running down hill that forward progress is a monumental task. The outsides of my legs ached; when my feet hit the pavement, it felt like my bones were solid rods incapable of absorbing shock. So I ran no further. Tomorrow is another day. Now home, I pumped fluids and took some Vitamin I.

The 50K is just over three weeks out. I do not plan to do any substantial taper, just run 45-50 miles/week for these final three weeks. I'll hit somewhere between 60 and 70 miles this week, and that will be the max for this race. And then the post-race recovery.

My parents are playing crew for me over this race. Their love and support got me through the 2008 Twin Cities Marathon, and their presence is a powerful stimulant.


While you're here, please take a look at Brad Hefta-Gaub's blog, Sweat 365. Brad just completed his first 50K, which you can read about here. He is also on Twitter.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

End2End Trail Supply is back in business

George Carr and his company, End2End Trail Supply is back in business. For an industry who derives revenues primarily from discretionary income, this is a welcome sign.

As for their products, I whole-heartedly endorse their Gram Weenie series of alcohol stoves. I have a Gram Weenie Pro that I use to boil 16-20 ounces of water in 3 season conditions. My tests confirm the 11 minute burn time, also. They are producing three stoves now - a pop-can style stove, the original Gram Weenie and the Pro. The Gram Weenie series is now improved, with a roll-top lip for a better seal, smoother lines and better stability.

I also own their Grease Pot and and a pair of their Imusa 8 cm mugs. Although they are incredibly light weight, they are not for me. I did not like having no handles on my pot, and the handle on the cups heats up very quickly.

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure some of them are dirt." - George Carr

Friday, April 17, 2009

Initially impressed by Nathan hydration vest

I received my Nathan #020 Hydration Vest last month. Here is a long-delayed initial reaction.

First impression last night is excellent. The straps are made of an a reinforced mesh and the edges are covered by an elastic gross grain ribbon-like fabric. The backpack portion of the vest is an oval shaped pack that sits between the shoulder blade points and goes to the top or middle of my low back.

The side harness straps that control the shoulder straps appear well-placed. There are two sets of straps on each side. One set attaches directly to the backside edge of the pack. The second set attaches to Nathan's motion harness. Essentially, think of a boomerang whose middle point is facing down and is attached to the pack. The other two points are attached to the side straps, and the harness itself is made of a stretchy elastic that appears to act as a shock absorber and bounce controller. There is an elastic cord that "V's" on the outside of the pack to hold extraneous gear. This cord is equipped with a toggle and can be pulled one-handed.

The pack has a good amount of storage, even when the 70 oz bladder is full. This morning, I fit my running shorts, long sleeve Capilene top inside the backpack pocket, my shoes in the elastic, my stick of Body Glide in the shoulder strap zipper pocket and a bag of Gorp in the open pocket. I also fit my shoes underneath the extrenal elastic. There is also an outside zipper pocket out the top outside of the pack. This has a small mesh pocket inside it and a clip for keys. I fit my running hat in it quite nicely.

Back to the straps, briefly. They are not a typical ladder lock-type buckle or side-release buckle. It is a simple O-ring that is controlled by a tri-glide buckle. This is difficult to adjust on the fly, and requires adjustment before the vest is put on. That said, the buckle system appears to be solid and designed to hold up to the bouncing and stress of running long distances.

The idea of the vest is to carry an electrolyte mix in a hand bottle, such as Gatorade, Cytomax or Pedialyte, and water in the bladder. This should help me boost hydration on long runs and keep me a happier runner.

I could have opted to get an #028 vest, which lacks a bladder and is also quite cheaper. I opted against it because after contacting the folks at ZombieRunner, I believe the bladder could be easily removed and the pack would carry just fine.

Although I have reserved taking it out for longer runs (10+ miles), my initial impression is that the pack does two things: First, it keeps me incredibly hydrated. Second, it causes me to lean back slightly. This pushes me back on my pelvis and until I have more experience with it, has caused me to run slightly slower. I believe this is caused purely by inexperience with the pack, which will be alleviated with more use.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

First weekend out - something had to give

We headed out this weekend for our first trip of the year together and with a bunch of new gear in tow. Lake Maria State Park near Monticello, MN was our venue.

Our sleep system was entirely new, and something failed in it. We slept in a Dixon Double bivy sack, I on a blue foamer torso pad, she on a short Prolite 3. She had a Marmot Hydrogen, as purchased from a BPL forumite. The big push for me was using a new half-bag with a torso pad and a Mont-bell UL Down Inner Parka. Temps hit the low 30s, but were above freezing. There was no wind and little humidity.

I was chilly for a good portion of the night, something along the lines of mild hypothermia. I was watching myself for signs of more extreme issues, but they never came. My toes did get cold, but I put on extra socks on up to my arches. I think that I bottomed out the jacket and was mildly dehydrated. The torso pad, which is 21" x 31", is long enough to cover my butt and wide enough so that I can lay my hands on it at my sides. I never felt cold seep up from underneath me, which I found odd considering my body temp. In hindsight, I should have brought my R1 Hoody instead of the Cap. 1 top.

She was uncomfortably cold. The bottom of the bivy, made of incredibly slippery silnylon, had no purchase on her pad. It slipped and slid all night long, and her sleeping bag, which is Pertex shelled, slipped on the top of her pad. The combination of the two put her off her pad and onto the ground often. She eventually put the pad inside her bag and slept better, but not great. She was very tired the next morning and cold throughout the night. She is a side sleeper, but could not sleep on her side because of the location of the pad and the hood. To sleep on her side, she would have needed to breath into the bag. We all know what happens then.

Something items tested very well. I went with a near sub-5 lb. base weight, similar to the one that is posted in my sidebar. (I say near because I made no calculations.) In that, I carried my Z1 to near-perfect comfort. It has a sternum strap and a waist belt. I tested the pack when both, one or none of the straps were engaged. The pack is definitely less stable when either of the straps were undone, especially the waist belt. It sways back and forth slightly when the belt is undone, but it is noticeable.

Also, my windshirt, a GoLite Ether, worked great. I have been using for running since February of this year, and have (as expected) sweated it out with frequency. But walking around in 50 degree temps with a pack on, it breathed quite nicely and it will stay in my pack. Its versatility is well worth the 3.19 ounces it weighs. In cooking, we did a Lipton packet cooked over my MSR PocketRocket. We boiled 16 oz of water, and then simmered for 5-8 minutes. And we used only 15 grams of fuel. I'll take that anyday. I have also started a spreadsheet documenting fuel consumption.

Others were not effectively tested. We slept under an Oware CatTarp2 that was pitched decently, but we had no wind, rain, or other inclement weather to test the tarp out in. More on this later.

On other notes, I recently picked up a MLD Superlight bivy from a BPL forumite. It is a stock model, and weighs 5.99 ounces with a minibiner. This is 0.21 ounces under manufacturer specification. In looking for bivies for use with my poncho/tarp, I focused on the MLD superlight and the TiGoat Ptarmigian bivy. The MLD cost more from Ron, but it has a partial side zip and increased its appeal because of usability. When I saw it go up for sale, I jumped on it. This is the bivy Andrew Skurka used on his most recent hike, although he had a custom model made with 2.0 oz/yd^2 SilNylon. In chatting with him, he said he got it because of increased durability and because his Vapr bivy was no longer waterproof.

I also recently purchased Minibiners and tiny cordlocks from Joe Valesko at ZPacks. The 'biners are for my poncho/tarp and the cordlocks are for anything I find them for; I bought 20 of them.

Finally, SUL List (sub 5 lb. baseweight) is now live. It is created through Google Docs and will automatically update whenever I make a change. I will also be putting other lists up there, too. They will appear in my sidebar.