Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chaoqing Laotou: Ultralight Oldies

It was with some amusement that we were introduced to the Chinese phrase chaoqing laotou, or "ultralight oldies.

We were reviewing our @Section_Hiking Twitter account and discovered a very good article about some folks from China hiking the Appalachian Trail and finding it manicured and wimpy compared to Chinese mountain trails. Near the end of the article, a scene at one of the shelters in the Great Smokies Mountains National Park describes some older American men comparing ultralight gear. As younger American charge up the Appalachian Trail with 50-60 pound packs as badges of honor, older males, like ourself, tend towards reducing pack weight. The Chinese hikers refered to the pack of senior citizen gram weenies as chaoqing laotou.

While we haven't converted all our nylon accessories to ultralight cuban fiber or started removing tags from tea bags, we have started weighing our gear in hopes of reducing some additional weight towards the goal of increasing our enjoyment. So, rather than considering ourselves a gram weenie, we're content to be considered an "ultralight oldie."

Read the full Outside Online article here:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Homemade Alcohol Stoves: The Coke Can Stove

Are you looking for a lightweight stove for your next backpacking trip? Have you ever considered a homemade alcohol stove from a Coke can?

Right after the canister stove, alcohol stoves are the most popular type of stove on the Appalachian Trail. The Coke can stove is the most popular of the its genre for good reason. Backpackers carry pocket knives and soda cans are plentiful and free!

So, it was with much delight when we discovered that Brian of Brian's Backpacking Blog included one of his homemade alcohol stoves made from a Coke zero can with the Bud Light stove we had won. Brian is a true craftsman. His cut lines are clean and the holes clean and well spaced. You just can't help but turn his homemade stove around and say "Wow!"

Adding the wow factor is the small size and weight of this type of homemade alcohol stove. We set the stove on our digital scale and read 11 grams or just a third of an ounce. Amazingly light! While the base of a Coke can stove is a smaller diameter than for Brian's Bud Light backpacking alcohol stove, the Coke zero can has a wider diameter above the base. Ours measured a smidge over 2-1/2 inches in width and just 1-3/4 inches tall. That means this homemade stove will fit inside most backpackers cups, including Esbit's new 585 ml cup, with room for a BIC mini-lighter and a folding spoon. Nice...

So, how's it burn? We found out last Saturday morning when we took it for a test boil on the back patio. We poured in 20ml of denatured alcohol, set our wind screen around it, and applied a light match. Like with Brian's Bud Light stove, alcohol is colorless when it burns. At 30 seconds we started to see bubbles and by 40 seconds we had yellow jets of flame from the side ports. We set an aluminum pot with one pint (16 oz) of water on top and let it heat. We had boiling water at 4-1/2 minutes. In fairness, we did lift the pot twice to check the stove as we weren't sure the wind hadn't blown it out. We did mention alcohol is colorless when it burns, didn't we?

We found this particular stove a wee bit more unstable than its brother, the Bud Light stove. This is likely due to its smaller base and the wide pot we used. The stove is likely more stable with small diameter metal cups.

After pouring off the boiling water and removing the wind screen, the stove cooled rapidly and we were able to pack up quickly. By the time you finish stirring your coffee or soup, the stove is cool enough to handle.

All in all this is a very good stove design and Brian puts lots of care into the construction of his alcohol stoves. We asked Brian about a Dr Pepper alcohol stove for a daughter who is a slave to the brand. Brian replied that he didn't drink sodas, but knew people who did. So, visit Brian on Brian's Backpacking Blog and don't forget to follow @BFGreen on Twitter. Thanks, Brian!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Alcohol Backpacking Stoves: The Bud Light Stove

Recently, we were the winner of an alcohol backpacking stove giveaway. The prize was a well made Bud Light alcohol stove. We grabbed some alcohol, water, pot, and the stove and fired it up this past weekend. Here's what we discovered...

The Bud Light alcohol stove is made from a heavy aluminum bottle. The top portion is removed, small holes drilled around the bottom half of the remaining aluminum tube, and then the tube is some how folded and compressed inside itself. The result is a sturdy, double walled, alcohol stove measuring just 1-3/4ths inches high and across which easily fits into most titanium and aluminum mugs and cups. We threw the little backpacking stove on our digital scale and found it weighed less than an ounce: just .85 ounces or 25 grams. That's just a bit heavier than a Supercat alcohol stove, but well in the acceptable range for folks wanting a lightweight backpacking stove.

We took the stove outside to our BBQ grill and poured 20 ml of dyed denatured alcohol inside. We then struck a match and stuck it inside to light. As alcohol fuel is colorless when lit, we weren't sure that we had actually succeeded in lighting the stove. At about 20 seconds, we noted tiny bubbles appearing in the alcohol, which became a full boil by 30 seconds. About five seconds later yellow flames erupted from the top and from the tiny side jets. Houston, we have ignition!

We set our old Mirro aluminum pot with a pint of water on top. Stable with no noticeable wobble. Likely due to this alcohol stove design having a slightly larger base diameter. We wrapped our tin foil windscreen around the pot and stove. No visible flame was observed, but we could feel heat rising around the pot.

At about 3-1/2 minutes we noted the bottom of our pot covered with small bubbles. By 4 minutes we had a roiling boil in progress. There was still fuel to burn and our last bit of fuel lasted until almost the 5 minute mark.

We dumped our boiling water in the kids nearby wading pool and let the stove cool down. Being double walled, the Bud Light stove takes a bit more time to cool than the single wall Supercat stove.

This particular Bud Light alcohol stove was made by Brian Green of Brian's Backpacking Blog. Brian also included one of his Coke can homemade alcohol stoves for us to test as well. While we really, really liked Brian's well made Coke stove, we'd choose the heavier Bud Light alcohol stove for its sturdiness and stability.

Here's a video from another hiker showing his Bud Light stove and its interior construction.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mobile Web Content for Section Hikers

The Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail blog is now on the mobile web!

Recently, Google released a draft tool for making Blogger and Blogspot blogs mobile phone accessible. We have have added that tool to our account and now you may view Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail web content in simplified form on your favorite mobile device.

The mobile version removes the weather images at the top of the page and the right-side content pane. Posts appear with a small thumbnail and the first few lines of the post. A large arrow icon on the right-side of the mobile web content allows you to easily click through to the entire post.

There is also a mobile version of our Twitter web content. We update our associated Twitter account 1-2 times daily with many short informative posts that never appear here in the main blog. To make it easy to add the Twitter web page to your mobile device, we have added a QR code to the right side content pane just below the Twitter widget. Its the big ugly black and white image.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gear: Supercat Homemade Alcohol Stove

We have acquired many backpacking stoves over our long life, but one of our favorites is our homemade Supercat alcohol stove. We like the Supercat alcohol stove because its among the lightest at 1 ounce, one of the simplest as its one piece with no parts, and it is effective in boiling water in about four minutes. Anyone can make a Supercat stove in about 15 minutes or less! Its the easiest homemade alcohol stove one can make and a popular project among backpackers.

Making a Supercat Alcohol Stove

Here's a YouTube video we like that describes how to make a homemade Supercat aka "Fancy Feast" alcohol stove:

Using a Supercat Alcohol Stove

Using a homemade Supercat alcohol stove is even easier than making one, but is not without a few warnings. We are setting fire to a liquid fuel in an open container punched full of holes.

1. Set your alcohol stove on a flat level surface, such as a picnic table, rock, or hard dirt surface. When using on a wood surface like a picnic table, its good trail etiquette to first place a piece of aluminum foil beneath the stove to reflect heat away from the wood. We carry a small round piece inside all our pots and cups that we use with our Supercat stoves.

2. Pour a small amount of alcohol inside the stove. For your first few times, don't agonize over how much fuel to use. Right now you just want to master the basics of how alcohol stoves operate. Don't fret if you spill a bit of alcohol over the side of the stove as you have just "primed" your stove for lighting.

3. Light your stove with a match or lighter. Hold a lit match or lighter near the holes of the stove or near the spilt fuel. The Supercat will likely ignite. Note there is little color in an alcohol flame and more than one cook has been singed by a lit alcohol stove. You can mix a small amount of salt into your alcohol fuel which will generate a visible flame.

4. Watch for the alcohol to begin boiling. After about 15-20 seconds, you should hear a change in the burning fuel and note small bubbles in the bottom of the stove. Congratulations! Its time to boil or cook something.

5. Slide your pot or cup down onto the stove. Slowly place your cook pot onto the Supercat stove. Covering the opening of the stove should cause the flame to jet out the small holes you punched into your can.

That's it in a nutshell! Your homemade alcohol stove will burn until it runs out of fuel. Don't be in a hurry to grab your alcohol stove after it goes out. The entire can will be very hot. Wait a minute or two and everything will be cold enough to pack up.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Backpacking Gear: LG Incite Windows Smartphone

One of the minor problems that most backpackers need to resolve is how many extra luxury items to pack and how not to forget and lose said luxury items while on the trail. Trail logs and forums seem to have more than one incident of someone finding lost phones and digital cameras along the Appalachian Trail. We had our own variation on our first section hike. We took along a Verizon pre-paid cell phone, two disposable 35mm cameras, a handful of maps and several sheets of notes. We also noted a distinct lack of current weather information along the A.T.

With that in mind, we have purchased an unlocked ATT LG Incite smartphone with Windows Mobile. We selected the Incite due to its combining the usual cell phone with still and video cameras along with an FM radio, WiFi, and standalone GPS system. "One device to rule them all;" pops into mind.

So far we have been very pleased. We have downloaded and installed several GPS programs and have settled on TurboGPS. We also have been pleased with the FM radio, which needs headphones or earbuds for an antennae and will not function without them. We've also found SpruceChess a free java chess program that should prove entertaining on the bus rides to and back. We installed Xpdf to view PDF files and will shortly upload our collection of PDFs from the 2009 Online Companion.

We have also taken numerous still photos under several light conditions and have found the size and resolution of both the photos and videos more than satisfactory.

Our final phase will be activating our pre-paid T-Mobile phone service. Our local ATT store was less than customer friendly when we inquired about a pre-paid ATT sim card, but T-Mobile was more than happy to sell us one of theirs. T-Mobile has adequate coverage at road crossing in NJ and in most of the metro New York City area. We can also spend just $10 every 90 days to maintain phone service. We like the idea of $40 per year for phone service that we prefer only to use while on the trail or during emergencies.

If you decide you like to purchase an LG Incite, we found ours on for about $100 - unlocked, no plan required. That's a tremendous discount from the 2008 suggested retail price of $500. A T-Mobile sim card is another $7 shipped.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Esbit Stove Cooking Set

While visiting a nearby military base, I discovered Esbit has a new stove and backpacking cook set. The new Esbit stove is round and one piece compared to earlier folding Esbit stoves. Also, the stove is no longer heavy steel, but lighter weight hard anodized aluminum.

We opened one of the boxes which was a 4 inches cube. Inside we discovered a small drawstring bag. Opening the drawstring bag we pulled out a cup with folding handles. Inside the cup was the stove. We set the stove base on the shelf and set the cup into the stove. Clever.

The Esbit stove has a permanent rectangle inside the bottom that holds one Esbit solid fuel tablet. There is a large opening to allow access for fuel tablets, matches, or lighters. Near the top of the stove are small holes to improve stove burning. It looks like there is room for a small alcohol stove or tea light stove inside the Esbit stove for those who prefer a different fuel. We noted Esbit's catalog does show this same stove available with an alcohol stove, so the extra space is a deliberate feature.

As there was no scale nearby, we don't have a weight for the set. If you purchase one of these you'll need to add a folding spork, lighter and some foil to make a better wind screen. Also, the stove seems almost the correct diameter for holding a Heineken pot, but alas, no Heineken beer can was available for testing.

There are a few other reviews of the Esbit stove set online already:
Esbit Solid Fuel Stove Set Review
Test Esbit stove: Small 585 ml cooking set for a cup of coffee


We went ahead and purchased the Esbit Stove Cooking Set. We killed about an hour measuring, weighing, and playing with its components. Here's some of what we discovered.

Size: The cup is 3.5 inches deep and 3.5 inches across (diameter)

Volume: The cup is marked with 8, 12 and 16 ounce levels, but will hold nearly 20 ounces.

Weight: The entire cook set as sold by Esbit weighed 1/2 pound (232 grams / 8.15 oz). The aluminum cup alone weighs 4.35 oz (129 grams). Dropping the Esbit stove and adding a Supercat alcohol stove and windscreen and the cook set weighs 6 oz (170 grams).

We took the stove outside in about 40 degree F weather, lit our Supercat stove and set the cup with 16 oz of tap water on the stove. Much more stable than our wider cook pot. Due to the close fit of the wind screen, when we first set the cup on the stove, we had a 2-3 inch jet of flame shooting above the wind screen on one side. This died back in about 20-30 seconds. We had boiling water at about 4 minutes.

We also wondered if the new round Esbit stove would fit a Heineken beer keg pot. We dug our Heineken pot out and set it into the Esbit stove. Perfect fit! Extremely stable, like the two were made for each other. Placing the stove over the top of the Heineken keg, we found the stove engulfed more of the keg and almost fit inside our screw top container. We're fairly sure that we can unscrew the four plastic legs and the stove and Heineken pot will fit perfectly inside the container.

We also set a super cat inside the Esbit stove as there is a European version with a brass alcohol stove. The Supercat pushes the Heineken pot up slightly and there's a bit of a wobble with an empty pot. The solid fuel holder is held in place by a single rivet. It looks like, if the rivet were removed, the Heineken pot would fit snugly over the Supercat stove making a complete lightweight alcohol stove system.

We plan to purchase a second Esbit stove cooking set and separate its components so we end up with two 6 oz Esbit cup/stove sets and two Heineken pot/Supercat/Esbit stove sets. That should cover our family of four and allow each child to eventually inherit two lightweight cooking systems.

Watch for two upcoming articles and YouTube videos featuring each cooking system and its components.