Gathering Gear: Camp Kitchen

Standard

The assortment of gear which I collectively refer to as my ‘camp kitchen’ is the product of a lot of trial and error, as well as the experience of decades of trips into the woods.  Some of my kitchen I already had and will keep: bowl, coffee system, spoon, mug, vacuum bottle, water bottle, and water bladder; and some is new: stove, cookware, water filter, and rodent bag.  I’ll address first why I’m keeping what I’ve kept. Then I’ll discuss the new things.

IMG_0062

My Camp Kitchen

 

First up is my bowl.  Though I tend toward a lot of the cook-in-a-bag meals like those from Mountain House, I still eat a lot of oatmeal, Ramen, rice, and other such foods which require a good bowl.  For those meals I use my Sea to Summit Delta bowl and lid.  It’s light, strong, holds a decent amount, and is easy to hold even when full of near boiling water.  The lid is great for things like oats which need to sit in hot water for a while to cook, and it makes a decent cutting board.  I haven’t found any I like better so I stick with it.  This is my third one:  I don’t know where the other two went, but I suspect that at least one of them was ‘borrowed’ without my consent.

The mug, spoon (not in picture), Nalgene, and bladder are like the bowl in that I haven’t found better so I keep them.  The coffee system warrants some discussion though.

Coffee is a long-standing problem with me.  I value a good cup of coffee in the morning, and, while I can drink some horrid stuff which people call “coffee”, it is sometimes hard for me to get in good mood without a truly good cup of coffee; especially if it’s cold outside or I didn’t sleep well. I’ve tried the instant coffee route, but it is relatively expensive, and never really results what I would call a “good” cup of coffee.  I don’t put creamers, sugar, or other such dilution in my coffee, so I can’t rely on that to help. I tried a french press attachment with my Jetboil, but, while it made a decent tasting cup of coffee, I could never get grounds-free coffee.  It also occupied the pot needed for cooking, and clean-up was a real hassle.  So, on my last bicycle trip I tried the Hario V60 pour over maker pictured above (the red funnel-looking thing lower right), and love it.

The V60 is plastic so weighs very little, and it makes really good coffee.  It is basically a manual drip coffee maker.  You put it over a cup, or, in my case, a Nalgene; put a filter and coffee in it, and then slowly pour boiling water through it, and, voila! 4 cups of great coffee with no grounds in it.  To keep the coffee hot I pour it into my REI vacuum bottle which will keep it hot all day, and I am a happy man with my caffeine addiction amply addressed.  I even use it at home quite a bit because of how easy it is and how good the coffee is.

The only drawback I’ve found so far for the V60 is the filters.  They aren’t a common style so can be hard to find. I currently order mine through Amazon whenever I order something else from them.  I’ve also experimented with the normal cone filters, and while they work OK it is a bit of a hassle folding them up to fit, and the coffee isn’t quite as good.  In the field I empty the grounds out of the filter and carry the used filters out with any other trash.

Now for the new stuff.

First comes the stove/cookware. I’ve been using a JetBoil for years now, and like it well enough.  As a water-boiler it is a champ, and even though the piezo went out some time ago, it has proven quite reliable. However, as a cooking stove, it leaves a bit to be desired since it is an all-or-nothing kind of thing.  You either go full blast with the heat or are constantly re-lighting it, so cooking something on a low setting, or in a pot is a real chore, and simmering is nigh impossible. So I’ve replaced it.

To replace the stove I got MSR’s Pocket Rocket.  It’s small, light, reliable, uses mess-free fuel canisters and has a good simmer setting.  I’ve had a couple of different MSR stoves over the years and they have yet to disappoint, so I feel confident with this one.

A big thing for me next to weight and reliability was fuel type. Before the JetBoil, I had the venerable Whisperlite which I used on many camping/climbing trips with my children through the 90’s and 00’s.  While it never once let me down, I really didn’t like filling and carrying the fuel bottle; mostly out of fear of the fuel getting on my ropes or slings, much less on my sleeping bag or tent.  That fear led me to the canister-fuel stoves; hence the JetBoil.  I will admit though that the empty canisters really nag at me.  I go to sometimes extraordinary lengths to recycle them; but it still bothers me.

I’ve played with the Pocket Rocket a bit at home making coffee.  While not as fast as the JetBoil, it has a good boiling time, and it has a good simmer, so check and check.  I’ll be able to give more of an informed opinion once I get a few field uses in, but so far it looks like a good, simple, replacement for my aging JetBoil.

For something to cook and boil water in, I went with a couple of new pots from Sea to Summit:  the X-Pot kettle, and the X-Pot 2.8 liter.  The kettle is for boiling water, and the pot is for everything else.

I went with the X-Pots due to their design.  They are basically an aluminum plate/cook surface with collapsible silicone walls, and plastic lids.  So far I’ve used the kettle over the Pocket Rocket to boil coffee water, and it works great.  The kettle, when collapsed, nests into the pot, and both together weigh right at a pound and take up as much space as a small dinner plate.  The drawback of this design is that they can’t be used over an open flame such as a campfire, meaning: no stove fuel, no cooking. But, since I tend to err on the side of caution with fuel and always carry no-cook foods for those times when I don’t want to/can’t cook, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Even more important than cooking, is water.  Since I am a bit paranoid about bad water, and don’t want to carry up to week’s worth of clean water, I needed a water filter.  I have an old PUR Hiker which I’ve used for years now, but I’ve opted to try something new:  the Sawyer Mini squeeze filter.

The Sawyer is tiny compared to other filters I’ve had, and at 2 ounces is definitely lighter.  To filter water you  fill one of their “squeeze bags” with water, attach the filter and squeeze the water into a container or directly into your mouth.  You can also attach it inline on a hydration reservoir or to a soda bottle; or even drink straight from the source with a straw.  According to Sawyer, it will filter up to 100,000 liters of water before needing to be replaced.  To clean it you merely back-flush it with clean water using the syringe pictured above.  It seems like a great idea, and I feel good about it, but time will tell, and I will definitely review it later after it’s been run through the ringer.

The final part of my kitchen is the chain-mail looking bag everything else is lying on in the picture.  That is a stainless-steel mesh Ratsack.

Over the years, I’ve never lost food to bears, since, when in bear country, I am always careful to hang my food, or use bear vaults or canisters.  However, I have had lots of problems with raccoons, squirrels, and mice.  While these critters can’t get into bear vaults/canisters, they are quite good at raiding food bags even when they are hanging from trees.  I’ve personally watched mice and squirrels climb down ropes to get at suspended food and have had ropes chewed through, and bags raided.  On my bicycle trips last year I lost food to raccoons and mice a couple of times, and even came close to losing my heart meds, which were packed away in my trailer, to a raccoon.

20150724_063621

A Raccoon Either Had a Headache or Was Out of His Heart Meds.

Since my upcoming trip involves trekking through bear country, I needed a suitable food bag to hang, so I bought the Ratsack, which when combined with a couple of odor-proof bags (not pictured), and properly hung should keep my food, toiletries, and medicine safe from creatures both great and small.  At, 10 1/2 ounces the Ratsack is heavier than a similar sized (41 liter) bag, so it’s definitely not for the ultra-light crowd, but, for me, the piece of mind it offers is worth the little bit of extra weight.

One concern that others have expressed about the bag is the chance of the mesh wearing a hole in a pack.  This bothered me as well, but I don’t intend to actually carry the food and other things in the Ratsack.  The food, toiletries, and such will be carried in the odor-proof bags, and the Ratsack only deployed in camp.  I intend to carry the bag rolled up in the heavy plastic bag it came packed in and strapped to the outside of my pack with my tent poles.

Also not pictured are a few small nalgenes which hold oil, soap, and pepper.  But these are fairly self-explanatory and common.

So, that’s everything in my kitchen minus the sink, and food of course.  I honestly can’t wait until the day comes when I will be using these things full-time instead of just playing around with them, and making coffee.

 

 

Advertisements

What’s Next?

Standard

 

The plan for Spring is set.  I’m headed back to my beloved mountains of Western North Carolina.

 

Linville Gorge

Me on the Eastern Rim of Linville Gorge Above North Carolina Wall on One of My Many Climbing Trips Many Moons Ago.

As of today, the itinerary goes as follows:

  1. Sometime in early April take a bus from Indianapolis to Johnson City, TN
  2. Take a shuttle from Johnson City to the Appalachian Trail (AT) trailhead in Erwin, TN.
  3. Hike the AT south for 142 miles to Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
  4. Connect to the start of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) at Clingman’s Dome.
  5. Hike around 300 miles of the MST north and east to Grandfather Mountain State Park and Boone, NC

Once at Grandfather Mountain/Boone, the next step is, for now, uncertain. Options include:

  • Take a shuttle back to Johnson City then a bus back to Indianapolis.
  • Continue on the MST at least to Stone Mountain State Park, NC.
  • Shuttle back to the AT and head north.
  • Go back to Asheville, NC and figure something out from there.

Right now, I’m leaning toward the Asheville option, but there are several variables to consider, not the least of which being that I may not be doing the trip alone.

In any case there is still a good bit of planning to do like establishing resupply points; and I still have a few pieces of equipment to get.  I will update as appropriate