Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kitchen Gear: ZipLock Twist'n'Lock

There are a few reasons that I really enjoy making my own camping gear. I like to build things. There's something satisfying about having done it myself. Building it yourself also ensures that the gear you create has all the features that you want and none of the ones you don't. But my primary motivation... the one thing that got me into this in the first place is... dun dun dun... I'm cheap.

I really don't like spending a great deal of money. It physically pains me to pay retail prices. Even looking at the price tags on technical outdoor gear hurts. Clearance racks are my friends - but even those can seem overpriced to me when it's backpacking gear.

That's why I like to make my own gear. At least, in my head, that's what I tell myself - I'm not really that convinced that I've saved any money...

Which brings me to the ZipLock Twist'n'Lock kitchen system.

If you're backpacking you want to keep your gear to a minimum - both in size and weight. No, I'm certainly not a gram-weenie, and depending on your standards I may not even fall into "ultra-light". That's fine with me. I will gladly settle for fairly light. That said, I think this system will fall into the ultra-light category.

Size small ZipLock Twist'n'Lock bowl with cozy. Cost me about $2.75 at WalMart for a pack of three.

The three pieces separated. The lid has a piece of 1/4" ccf (ccf = closed cell foam) that fits in the indent and has aluminum tape underneath and on top.

This cozy is made from a 1/4" ccf pad with aluminum tape covering the inside (duct tape on the outside). Aluminum tape acts as a heat reflector (making the ccf work similar to reflectix).

If you are new to backpacking and lightweight gear this may seem a bit odd to you. But veterans are well aware of the importance of a good cozy. It's one of the most overlooked yet very important parts of your cook system. A cozy retains the heat in your container allowing food to cook without requiring it to stay on the stove - saving you fuel, often the weightiest part of most lightweight cook systems.

The small size ZipLock container holds 2 cups to the brim. It is a compact little bowl that works great for most solo meals, as a mug/cup, and you can store food or whatever else in it during transport (multiple-use items are big weight savers in your pack). And if the size small won't handle the meals you'll be doing, try the medium size container, it holds 4 cups.

Two sizes of the Twist'n'Lock cup (small and medium) with a small ZipLock bowl for size reference.

Most people make a cozy for their cook pot, not their bowl. Bring your food to a boil, pull the pot off the stove and slip it into your coy and let it sit. I like the mug/bowl cozy because it makes clean up easier for me. My cook pot is only used to boil water so it never has a sticky, gooey mess to clean up.

Going this route is really a form of freezer bag cooking. Just put your pasta in the container, bring your water to a boil and turn off the stove, pour the water into the container and twist on the lid. Let it sit for 5-15 minutes (depending on what you're cooking) and walah! Food's done.

I even use it at home for oatmeal and ramen noodles.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kirsten's First Hang

The weather warmed up a bit this last week.. finally. I got home from work and cut down some dead trees in an area of the far back yard that I mowed down last Saturday. Doing some much needed yard work now that Spring has finally arrived? Well, yes and no. Cleaning up the yard and gaining another quarter acre from the thistles was only secondary.

I really just wanted to clear a nice spot to try out my many homemade hammocks. The winter was long and the "do-it-yourself" bug had bit me pretty hard. I made nine of them.

Yup. Nine.

Anyway... I was so excited about having a spot to hang a hammock I had to try out my latest design. It's not completely set up yet, it still needs bug netting and some adjustments on the ridgeline - but it worked great! And my baby girl Kirsten got to "hang" with daddy tonight. She really enjoyed staring into the woods. It was a little cold out so she's wearing her "base layer", fleece pj's, and snuggled up with a blanket in the baby sling that Jason's wife made for us.

Snuggled up with daddy... there's nothing better in this world.

Mommy caught Kirsten giving daddy a zerbert. Good timing mommy.

Cutest baby in the world? Why yes, yes she is.

So, about the actual hammock. It's a two layer design, with access between the layers from either side. The ridgeline is 2.5mm accessory cord, reflective, as you can see. The guy line tabs on either side (like a Hennessy) are adjustable (unlike a Hennessy) - you can move them almost anywhere along the sides.

Intrigued? You bet you are! And wait... there's more.

The top layer can also be used as a top cover in cold weather by running the removable ridgeline through the button holes on both ends and crawling in through the 4 foot velcro entrances. It forms a cocoon that blocks the wind and traps more of your body heat. I like to call it the "Over-Under" hammock. There will be a full thread with details on this design later once I can get some proper pictures taken.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Singlewall Wood Stove (2) - Test Run

I took about 30min this afternoon to give it a test run. It worked pretty well. I've found my biggest problem with these sorts of stoves is my impatience. I don't see the instant results I expect (the flame almost disappears for a while) so I mess around with it, causing a lot of smoke. I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

1. Fill it with layers of pinky sized dry sticks (the key to getting good, dry wood is to snap dead branches from live or dead trees, not pick it off the ground where it undoubtedly soaks up ground water). If the branch makes a snapping sound and does not bend when you break it off it should be very dry. 2. Next, add some tinder. Here I used one cotton ball, nothing special added. Don't forget to add the pot stand brackets before you go to the next step. The cotton ball lights up very well with my Scout firesteel (a birthday gift from Slublog). In the field I use petroleum jelly smothered cotton balls. You only need a little bit to get dry sticks going.
3. Place a few thin sticks acrost the stove and build a small wood pile on top. Light the tinder and wait.
4. The top wood pile will burn for a while, then drop into the stove - igniting the top layer of wood you packed in. This stove burns from the top down and works well if you just fill it once and let it be. It is designed to allow you to add sticks if you'd like and want to use it that way. Once the fire is going well, and dropped into the can low enough you can pop on the pot stand.
5. Smoke. No, this is not necessarily one of the steps... but it tends to happen when I get impatient and mess around with the stove. I didn't see a flame so I removed the windscreen to give it more air. Until the fire is going properly, this is what you'll get when you mess around. It works best if you just leave it be.
6. Wait. Then wait some more. Eventually you'll see a nice flame coming out the top.
7. Boil. Once the stove kicks into gear and the flame is under your pot it won't take long to boil water. The wood was about 1/2 used up when I got two cups to a boil. Sorry, I didn't time it. It continued to boil for a good long while, and the coals at the bottom would keep the water warm for quite some time if left on the stove.
8. Here's a look after the burn is over. You can see the coals sitting at the bottom. Just let the stove sit while you prepare and eat your meal. By the time you're done, it will have cooled off and just be a pile of ash at the bottom. This first test gave a complete burn, nothing but ashes left. Dig a hole and bury the COLD ashes.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Single Wall Wood Stove - Take Two

My first attempt at a single wall wood backpacking stove was a little lackluster, in my opinion. It worked, but just barely. This is the second attempt, and while I've yet to test it out, I have high hopes.

It is made from one 28 ounce vegetable can (diced tomatoes, I believe) - so cost was minimal, we'll call it $0 ... if you need diced tomatoes for anything, and have some spare hardware cloth lying around, and a stainless steel shish-kebob stake. Just poke some holes in the right places and you're good to go.

I did things quite a bit differently in this model. There are 5 holes punched out, only on one side, at the bottom. This was so a little less air would get in under the wood. The previous model burned too fast. The last one had 13 holes all the way around the bottom. Initially I intended to make this it's own pot stand, as with the other one. But you just can't fit enough wood in that way, so - as you can see - I opted to not cut out the large rectangle.

At the top there are two large holes. It's much easier to add holes later than remove them. The four tiny holes are for two stainless steel rods that slide through and hold up the pot stand.

All the larger holes in my wood stoves are 5/8". Not because I think they should be, but because my dad gave me a 5/8" chassis punch kit and that's all I have to make nice looking holes in sheet metal. A good hand punch or step-bit would let me make the 1/2" holes I would prefer to use.

The entire stove consists of a lot of parts. The stove can, pot stand, two pot stand rods, and the fire grate. I'm not terribly pleased with that. I prefer not to have loose items that can be lost.

The pot stand and the fire grate are made from 1/2" hardware cloth. You can purchase it by the foot at most any hardware store, or in a roll at the larger big box stores. The fire grate has down-turned edges, so it sits right at the level of the top of the air inlet holes. Ash will fall through as the wood burns down.

The pot stand is not enclosed - on purpose. This allows a generous space to add more sticks as the fire is going if you need to. It sits very securely on the rods inserted through the can.

I know that there are people who use these sorts of stoves (Bushbuddy clones, Bushwhacker, etc.) with those tall and narrow Heineken mini-keg cook pots. Personally, I have no interest in them. Wider based cook pots work much better with this sort of stove. Here is my very first backpacking pot - it's from a Texsport aluminum mess kit that I bought in 1994. I'll be using it because I really don't care if it gets covered in soot.

Even with wood burning stoves, a windscreen is a must. Ultra-light-weight'ers like to use a few layers of tin foil as their windscreen. Yup, it's light. Nope, it don't work for me. Even with a little wind, they just don't have the rigidity to keep from flopping against the stove - and I can see myself burning my hands trying to keep it in shape. I like aluminum flashing. It's very light, but still sturdy enough to hold up against the wind - and keeps it's shape, so even if it does move, I can push it back into place easily.

The windscreen has two rows of 1/4" holes (made from a paper hole punch) - only on one side. This way you can turn it to block the wind. Having holes all the way around defeats the purpose in my opinion.

Now I guess I need to go test it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Single Wall Wood Stove - Take One

Yup. More wood fire backpacking stoves. How many is too many?

Too many? What a silly notion.

This is my first attempt at a single wall wood stove. I made it after making the DIY Bushbuddy (double wall stove) and based it on many of the things I learned in it's design.

It's made from a 28oz diced tomatoes can, so it's essentially a free stove - that is, if you need lots of diced tomatoes for anything. Just pop off the top, poke some holes in it, cut out a rectangle big enough to add more wood while it's fired up. Heh... fired up... get it?

This stove works best with a good windscreen (like any stove). Aluminum flashing workes very well. I've tried it with the three layers of aluminum foil type windscreen and it just is not heavy enough to withstand the wind. The aluminum foil presses against the can wherever there is a moderate wind - no matter what I do to keep a gap. The flashing keeps it's shape so it's easy to maintain the required 1" gap all the way around.

The top is 'holed' out just like the pot stand I made for the bushbuddy clone.
The fire grate is not removable. The lower holes go all the way around.

Top view.

I cut off the bottom with a safety can opener so it
can be used as a ground plate to minimize scorching.

Here's how it looks after a couple burns.
Not quite so pretty, but the metal holds up well.

Round two, when I get around to it, will have see some changes. I don't think there is much point in removing the bottom of the can. I'll just leave it on. The fire grate is obnoxious. I'll make a removable one next time, or at least one where the edges don't protrude from the sides of the can (causes trouble with putting it in a stuff sack). This stove burned through the wood VERY fast. I think fewer air inlet holes are in order. Perhaps even fewer exaust holes as well. On the bottom I'll start with a few, on one side, and add more as necessary. Same with the top - I'll start with just one row and add more if needed.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Off Subject

This blog is generally dedicated to gear suited to get you into the outdoors. You'll see alcohol stoves, wood burners, camp kitchen ideas, camping hammocks, packs, ideas on staying warm... or cool... you get the idea.

Today I'm pointing you down a rabbit trail, as it were. This particular trail, however, is going to send you indoors... to sit in front of a screen... and repeatedly push buttons.

I hope you enjoy.

Space Dodgeball
Added: 29 November 2008
By: sclittlefield

This is a video game I programmed years ago. There are 90 levels, so good luck. It gets a bit rough halfway through. I can beat it. How far can you get?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bushwacker Wood Stove

The Bushwacker is a compact wood burning backpacking stove. It was designed by J. Falk and is a cost effective alternative to the Bushbuddy (though it actually functions quite a bit differently). It's not made from such high end stainless steel - but it costs approx. $85.00 less. Sure, it won't last quite as long, and maybe it doesn't look as cool, but it also won't hurt your budget nearly as much either, costing you under $30.00.

Or... you could make your own, using the same materials that the Bushwacker is made from for around $5.00. You can buy the DIY instructions from Jim here. If building your own stove sounds a bit daunting, I recommend buying one from J. Falk. He's a great guy and has put a lot of work into perfecting the design, and supporting cottage industry is certainly the best way to go.

This was my DIY attempt without directions, so it's not exactly how Jim builds his (and I have a feeling his works better). This one worked fairly well though. What I like best about it is that it's a "light it and leave it" stove. You pack it in with wood, get it going properly, and then you don't have to add any more wood. You can also adjust how fast and hot it burns by opening or closing the air inlet holes at the bottom of the stove. All in all, a great piece of work, and very cleverly designed.

Materials I used:
- quart sized paint can, preferably unused (Home Depot - $3.99)
- 27 / 28 oz vegetable can (Grocery Store)
- hardware cloth for pot stand and fire grate
- some kind of wind screen (Aluminum Flashing is ideal)
- something to poke holes in metal (a step-bit or hand punch work best)

Here's how it looks all set up.

The outer wall can be turned to close off the air vents to suit.
The outer wall and inner wall cans are not permanently connected.

Here are the two cans side by side. When you line up the seams in the cans the lower holes match. Air is introduced both into the bottom of the wood pile as well as the top holes where it mixes with the wood gas and ignites.

Top view of all the parts. The Hardware cloth inside the
smaller can is used as a fire grate and is removable.

Side view with a small stainless steel bowl as the cook pot.
The air inlets are closed half way in this shot.

A good windscreen is necessary in order for the stove to go into gas mode. J. Falk uses a tinfoil windscreen. He's a better man than I, it's just so lightweight that I couldn't keep it from pushing against the stove when there was even a little wind. Aluminum flashing worked very well. In this shot the windscreen is a bit wider than it should be while in use - keep a 1" gap all the way around.

Here's one of J. Falk's videos from Youtube on how to operate this stove.