backcountry distilled wisdom  return

Knowledge Nuggets

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Two Ideas for Better Stove Performance in Winter:

For those of us who use Butane/Propane burning stoves in the winter, or would like to use them in the winter, here's two suggestions sent in by John Macri to increase stove efficency (and reduce fuel weight).

  • Create an insulating rubber base for the fuel canisters by cutting out a circular plug--a little larger than the base of your fuel canister--from an old (computer) mouse pad. This base will keep your fuel canister off of the cold ground and increase efficiency.

  • Use an old (or new) MSR aluminum windscreen (you know, the ones we used when Whisperlites used to be popular) to wrap around the fuel canister to trap stove heat and increase performance. This works best if you are using the small canisters (like the Coleman 3.5 oz, 70%Butane/30%Propane Mix).

John's configuration is mouse pad base, small fuel canister under a Peak 1 Micro stove (6 oz.) and the MSR windscreen "......which increases performance like it were the middle of Summer...."

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Make Your Own Emergency Fire Starters:

As you well know, emergency fire starters are one of the "Fourteen Essentials" and are useful for quickly starting a fire, especially in emergency situations. They are also useful for igniting wet wood.

There are numerous ways to economically make your own "lightweight" fire starters. Here are a few suggestions:

  • plumber's candles (wax) will help start wet wood;
  • compressed balls of dryer lint mixed with or covered with melted parafin (creates a real fireball);
  • vaseline-impregnated cotton balls stored in small vials like your spent film canisters;
  • small strips of waxed cardboard (cut from old produce boxes -- your grocer might even give it to you free :-)
  • small flammable containers--individual egg-carton cups filled with mixtures of wood shavings, wax, & lint; etc.

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Lithium AA Batteries Make Sense:

They work really well. I have an energy-hungry digital camera that came with regular alkaline batteries--they lasted a very short time. I, next, tried out the Lithium batteries. After well over 100 pictures taken and uploaded to the PC, the batteries are still going strong. I don't have stats other than that, but the lithiums are clearly lasting much longer.

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Collection of Weight-Reducing Ideas:

Name: Mike Little, 10/02/97
Email: mentalfloss@geocities.com

Take fewer clothes. No heavy woolen clothes unless it's dead on winter and that's all you have. No cotton. Pile jackets make great pillows. If you get all your clothes on and you're still cold get into your sleeping bag or exercise for 1/2 hour.

Get a simple rain suit, not one with a jillion zippers, bells and whistles. I know what I'm talking about here because my present Gore-Tex parka has too many bells and whistles and is heavy as heck! And it's bulky. A dumb selection on my part.

A headlamp that uses 2 AA batteries will easily last a week. You don't need a 4 AA (or worse, a C or D battery) light. A single 2 AA headlamp will do. Take a spare bulb.

Use a simple, lightweight plastic groundcloth rather than something heavier. Some folks believe in no groundcloth. I don't have the bucks to buy a new tent so I use a groundcloth.

Carefully select snack foods. It is way way too easy to carry too many of these. Be tough on yourself on these and carry barely what you'll need. Carry very light backup foods -- that meal you have for emergency situations. Dried fruit is another heavy item. Carry only what you'll eat. Count them. 2-3 pieces of fruit per day is likely to be enough. Dried bananas are an exception for me. They are truly dry and light. A big bag of nuts is also (too) heavy.

Drink lots of and lots of water when stopped and carry less. It's easier to carry in your belly than on your back.

How about a nice helium-filled frame on those external frame packs? OK, so I'm joking.

There is NO need for an extra pair of pants. Even in the worst weather on the longest trips one pair of pants, one long john bottom and one pair of rainpants will cover all situations. This is not a fashion show. I went with a guy once who carried 2 extra pair of pants for a week and wondered why his pack was so oppressive. But he sure looked great!

Get insect repellant in it's lightest form. A plastic spray bottle, a plastic bottle with no spray, or a stick. No aerosol cans.

Just a spoon. No other tableware is needed. And the smallest knife you can get by with. (If in a group) a huge multi-tool might come in handy, but everyone in the group doesn't need to carry one. Designate the big guy for this task.

Let your Therm-a-Rest inflate itself. If you blow in it, it will gradually pick up internal moisture and grow heavier (and mildew ?) Also, the moisture will make it conduct cold better. What's the hurry? Just lay it out and go do something else.

I just gave up camp shoes. Comfortable boots lightly laced make perfectly good camp shoes in the evening.

Dry out things like tea bags before placing them into your trash sack.

Resist Gadgets. REI and every other camp store has dozens of clever little gadgets to add weight. Don't buy them!

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Fashion Your Own Emergency Whistle:

In the words of Charles Harper (4/18/97), " ..... instead of buying a whistle that will someday break, try an old 22 shell. Blow on it like an empty bottle, and a high pitched sound will shoot out."

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A (small, thin, flexible) Plastic Placemat Has Much Utility:

The one I have is about 11"x14" cut from a plastic floor mat. It weighs practically nothing, yet has many potential uses. You can use it as a sit pad, a place for dirty boots in the tent, and to stand-on while washing yourself. Other potential, albeit questionable, uses include as a sunshade, stove windscreen (if you're really, really careful), fly swatter, and umbrella. (source: backpacker's basecamp weekly wisdom 8/25/97).

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Packing Duct Tape #1:

Name: Carl Mueller, 03/17/97
Email: bugsbunny@vnet.ibm.com

Instead of packing a large, round roll of duct tape, wrap about 10 feet around a rectangular piece of corrugated cardboard. This dramatically reduces the size and overall weight. Flat gear packs better than large round stuff.

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Packing Duct Tape #2:

Name: Ken Bennett, 10/15/97
Email: bennettk@wfu.edu

Duct Tape ... another way to pack it ... wrap some tape around everything that will hold it. I have a few feet of tape around the handle of my trowel, my tiny bottle of foot powder, the small hard case that carries my first aid kit (an old army decontamination kit case), and one of my water bottles.

I know some folks who wrap tape and parachute cord around their hiking staffs, above and below the handle.

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Tent Ground Cloth/Vapor Barrier:

Name: Thomas Shields, 03/16/97
Email: shieldst@mindspring.com

A ground cloth is needed if you use a tent or bivy. Not (only) to (help) protect the floor, but to prevent condensation by providing a vapor barrier.

.....Most folks use a ground cloth that weighs up to a pound. The most effective way is to buy a very lite-weight painters cloth (lowest mil, cheapest available at local hardware store). Then cut to size, get 4-6 pieces of self adhesive velcro (available at most hardware stores, REI, Campmor,etc.) and attach inside of tent in corners.

It gives you the vapor barrier, if you track in a lot of dirt, etc., it's easy to fold up and remove,shake out, and replace. It will only weigh 2-3 oz.,costs less than a buck to replace(I buy a 9X12 for 1.39 and get two replacements).

EDITOR'S NOTE:
To a lesser degree than the hiking boots vs. running shoes debate, the ground cloth/vapor barrier on the inside of the tent vs. on the outside of the tent is a controversy as well. In this case, Thomas choses to put the barrier on the inside.

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Winter Water Protection:

Name: Charles Lindsey, 03/16/97

It's a major hassle when your water bottle bottle freezes up -- don't let it happen to you !

If you go out in freezing weather, here's several commonly-known practices that help keep your water in liquid form:

  • Get an insulated jacket for your bottle. You can get them specially made for Nalgene as well as Platypus-type bottles. They are inexpensive, easy to obtain, weight is negligible, and they work !

  • Bring your container inside your sleeping bag with you - place it at your feet, so you don't roll over on top of it. It'll stay about as warm as your toes.

  • Wrap it up with a sweater and put inside your pack.

  • If you're in a bivy and there's no room for water bottles (cause it's loaded with all your other gear) bury the bottle under a foot or so of snow, upside down. Snow insulates & any minor freezing will occur at the bottom of the container (if its buried upside down).

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One Single Container vs. Ditty Bags :

Name: Carl Mueller, 03/17/97
Email: bugsbunny@vnet.ibm.com

Instead of using ditty bags, I use one large square tupperware container to hold almost all my loose gear. I throw away all external wrappings and lay everything inside the one container.

I pack this container near the top of my pack so it is easy to access. I was able to reduce the overall weight of my pack by a few ounces, but I greatly reduced the amount of room that the indivual ditty bags were using.

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"Bubble" Packing Material as Sleeping Pad:

Name: Mike, 09/28/97
Email: slickcode@scws.com

I use bubble paper as my insulating mat. It weighs just 3 oz, and packs smaller than the Ultralight Thermarest 3/4.

Doesn't insulate quite as well though - but definitely not as slippery!

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Custom-Trimmed RidgeRest Mattress:

Name: Mike, 10/19/97
Email: slickcode@scws.com

I recently cut my ridgerest 3/4 mat down to 40" x 17.5" (narrowing to 14").

The resultant weight is just 6 ozs, and it is just as comfortable, as before!!

I also put a thin layer of seam seal over the edges I had cut, but I don't think this is really necessary.

PS. When I use my bubble-paper idea, but with these dimensions, the resultant weight is just 1oz (but for 3-season use only!)

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Homemade Ultralight Water Treatment:

Name: Mark Lowell, 04/20/97
Email: mlo1@music.stlawu.edu

..... Here's an ultralight water purification method I came up with for a 3 day, 2 night scramble through extensive microburst blowdown in the Adirondacks, where SIZE of the pack was more critical than weight.

I filled a 1/2 oz. eye drop bottle with tincture of iodine and used 4-8 drops per quart, depending on how clear/cloudy the water was. To be on the safe side, I gave it half an hour. AFTER the half hour was up -- so as not to distract the iodine from the microbes -- I put in a tiny packet of unsugared ice tea powder for flavor masking.

You could also use a 1/3 oz. breath drop bottle, but in either case CLEARLY LABEL that bottle, especially if you also carry eye drops. Iodine in the eye would be much more serious than squeezing antibiotic ointment onto your toothbrush in the dark!

I don't know about the advisability of using iodine every day for extended periods. Does someone out there have any sound information on this ?

EDITOR'S NOTE:
Not a good idea -- don't do it !

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Lamp Oil Instead of Candles:

Name: Dale Caine, 10/03/97
Email: dcaine@intldiv.com

Candoil makes a plastic cylinder / top / wick unit which replaces the candle and candle holder assembly found in standard candle lanterns.

It sells for about $10 and, besides being a lot cleaner (no wax drips), it is lighter and burns longer.

Candles usually last 6-7 hours while I have used my lamp with oil for ten hours without refilling.

          10/07/97

A few things I should have mentioned in my original e-mail. First, the units burn standard lantern oil (available in a choice of different scents if you are so inclined to change from the normal dirty socks mode). I bought a 22 oz bottle (bayberry) for less than $3.00, and with probably 100+ hours of use to date, the bottle is still half full. Second, a word on use. It is best to set the adjustable wick height to be just long enough to light (a very small flame at first). Once the unit heats up, the wick draws more fuel and the flame burns at the same height as a normal candle.

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Super Glue on Boot/Shoe Seams:

Name: Mike "Mucho Gusto" Buoy, 3/09/97
Email: mbuoy@mindspring.com

This summer while thru hiking the AT, I choose to hike in trail running shoes. One Sport TRS comps. I have found that with these shoes as well as other light weight boots you can increase the amount of mileage you can get out of them by coating all the threads found on the seams of the shoe with super glue. It protects the threads and stops any fraying from spreading if it does start.

On my thru hike this past summer I never once blew out a seam much less had any of the threads even fray.

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Lightweight "Solution" for Treating Blisters:

Name: Larry Loos, 10/31/97
Email: forlucky@ix.netcom.com

I hike with people who have blister problems. The best light weight treatment I have found for a broken blister is:

    1) Clean the area and rinse with clear water as best you can.
    2) Crush one iodine tablet in the bottem of a table spoon.
    3) Add a few drops of the water to make a paste.
    4) Apply the paste to the wound (insure that it gets under skin flaps)
    5) Protect the wound with mole skin.( but do not apply the mole skin directly to wound - cut a hole in mole skin the size of wound)

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Practical Solution for Packing Light - SHARE THE LOAD:

Name: Larry Loos, 10/31/97
Email: forlucky@ix.netcom.com

Sharing equipment is the greatest way to go lite. Share: 1) Camera, 2) Binoculars, 3) Tools, 4) Stoves, 5) Tents, 6) Ground cloth, 7) Cooking pots, 8) Tevas, 9) Fishing gear, 10) you can come up with more.

EDITOR'S NOTE:
HOWEVER, never, let one person carry ALL of an essential item. In other words, don't let one person carry ALL the food or emergency supplies, or ALL the water, etc. It should be common practice that everyone be able to survive with the supplies in their own pack. If the person with ALL the food falls off the mountain, you will get hungry.

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A Lightweight Emergency/Repair Kit:

Name: Larry Loos, 12/05/97
Email: forlucky@ix.netcom.com

1) Store several emergency replacement pins and retainers in the extra holes in your pack frame that are normally used for size adjustment.

2) Wrap emergency duct tape around areas of the frame that are out of the way of normal use and do not effect the fit of the frame.

3) Place 2-foot pieces of safety wire inside the long vertical tubes in your pack frame. They can be used for pack, pack frame, and other repairs.

4) Store several large safety pins in your first aid kit. They can be used for pack repair, clothing repair and to secure bandages.

5) Carry your whistle & compass on a new boot lace around your neck. The whistle and compass are handy, and the lace can be used as an emergency boot lace, to hold your hat on in the wind, or to attach pack straps (that have torn or broken eyes) to your pack frame.

6) A ridgerest pad can be used to immobilize a broken arm or leg. Attache it with the same straps that hold it on your pack, or use duct tape.

7) A bright orange garbage bag (like the ones used by CalTrans to clean up along highways) can be used as a pack rain cover, emergency raincoat, or flag for emergency signals.

8) A sheet of reflective mylar can be used as a very light weight mirror for grooming or for emergency signals.

9) A heavy duty zip lock luggage tag makes an excellent emergency water proof wallet. Carry only one credit card, a medical insurance card, a drivers license, $20.00 in paper money, a emergency telephone number list, emergency telephone change, other emergency medical information and a wilderness permit. Attach a car key to the hole with dental floss to save weight. Leave the rest of the contents of your regular wallet at home and leave your other keys at home or in your car. In an emergency, the luggage tag can be used as a cup.

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Tic Tac Breath Mint Container for Fishing Tackle:

Name: Jack Harrington Cohen, 03/23/97
Email: jcohen@fix.net

A tip for the (fishing) handline. I use a little Tic Tac Breath Mint container to carry the tackle when I want to go minimalist. Inside I have a piece of rigid foam that I stick my lure hooks into. I usually carry a few flies, and a 3/16 oz Kastmaster (with one of the hooks of the treble hook snipped off), and a few split shot weights (that you squeeze onto the line).

I try to cast with as little weight as neccessary to give the flies the best action. I push the Tic Tac container so that it is held between the strings on each side of the handline. Hopefully this makes sense. Let me know if it isn't, or if you have any other questions. Thanks again on the mail!

jack  jcohen@streamlines

NOTE: Jack is Mr. Streamlines Handline (3 oz fishing gear). You can learn more about the Streamlines Handline in the Ultralight Reviews Section.

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Light Tips from Starbuck:

Name: Conrad Starbuck, 12/11/97
Email: bckpkr@rocketmail.com

I designed and had made a rain coat of rip-stop nylon to come down to just above my knees and snap-up to the waist for a wind jacket.

I eat cold but will carry instant oatmeal, tea, etc. and heat it over a squaw fire in my sierra cup.

I stuff my 800 fill 5 degree bag into a 500 ci stuff sack.

The first aid kit is basic but I carry a pointed tweezers and a nail clipper. Dang those hang nails.

My 5-day pack is 1800 ci.

The philosophy of KISS suffices. KEEP IT SMALL and SIMPLE.

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Misc. Tips:

Name: Maohai Huang, 09/24/96
Email: mhuang@buast7.bu.edu

- always ( even in a hut or perfect calm weather ) use a wind screen when you cook -- makes a big differnce for MSR stoves.

- priming flame and dying flame after the fuel valve is turned off shouldn't be wasted.

- wood burning stoves are light and good for long trips in woods.

- reduce body weight.

- conserve energy. wear a hat to sleep.

- hang the camera and water bottle on the shoulder harness in front of you to balance the weight.

- have a good rhythm when walking.

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Sleeping With a Hat (on Your Head):

Name: Larry Loos, 12/15/97
Email: forlucky@ix.netcom.com

Sleeping with something on your head is a great idea. It conserves body heat. This allows you to carry a lighter sleeping bag. If you keep your face out of your sleeping bag, the moisture from your breath does not get into your bag. The moisture content of your bag stays lower and you sleep warmer in cold weather.

I find that a silk balaclava in the summer and a polypro balaclava in the winter do the trick. They do not come off in your sleep and can be warn under your hat for extra warmth during the day.

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Frisbee = Fun, Plate & Bowl:

Name: Tom Neer, 09/27/97
Email: tom@htan.org

One of my favorite extras in camp is a frisbee. It's not only a great way to relax, but works as a plate and bowl.

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Big Slam, Calling Card & Sweet Stuff:

Name: Luke MIller, 01/02/98
Email: milernov@minotafb.ndak.net

  • I'd like to relate that as strength goes, "Big Slam" soda pop bottles can literally be driven over by a vehicle without breaking, only the cap is a bit vulnerable, a sharp blow to it will ruin your day. Some engineer out there really needs to design a shatterproof cap and we would be all set.

  • Always carry a calling card (telephone) for those emergencies.

  • Remember to bring powdered drinks (Crystal light) or a good sports powder flavored with Nutrasweet--a little sweetness and flavor goes a long way toward making your trip more tolerable.

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    Kitchen Matches in Pill Bottle:

    Name: Wilson Hardison, 01/02/98
    Email: wilsonh@gisbld.ci.winston-salem.nc.us

    Matches: use 'kitchen matches' the large wooden matches with a white spot on the tip. These matches will strike on most rough surfaces, rocks, metal, etc. I carry the matches in recycled prescription medicine (pill) bottles for damp-proof storage.

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    Yah, You !  Lose Some Weight  !

    Name: Charles Lindsey, 01/09/98
    Email: email@noemail.org

    I recently lost 5 pounds, most of which was located in the mid-section. Not only does the pack belt feel more comfy but I feel stronger and, obviously, there's 5 less pounds that my structure has to support. My feet are a little happier as a result.

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