Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jeeves! Make Me A Stove!

They're out there. All the smart, inventive people. And the others.

I didn't realize it until recently, but this Internet thing has a lot of videos on it. You can learn stuff.

I was investigating a couple of new web sites that I'd heard of. One was totally new to me. It is called "Instructables: The world's biggest show and tell". Well, OK. Who's counting anyway? Biggest it may be.

Surprising thing though. I found lots of instructions on how to make lightweight stoves.


I happen to have written a book on ultralight stoves, but it's a lot more than pages of instructions. It's full of lunacy, and also has 26 stories, some of them quite the amusing sort of thing. And a 38 page lexicon you won't find anywhere else on Earth. So a buncha videos isn't really competition.

Come to think of it most of the videos aren't competition for anything at all. But you still may learn a thing or two. At least a video shows you things moving, and that's fun.

Before getting to the various instruction sets and videos, let me mention some sources of solid information. A couple of these have been around for quite a while.

First, the first one I found, "Wings: The home-made stove archives". A great, old-fashioned web site right out of the 1990s. Good info, and lots of it.

Then "Scott Henderson’s Pepsi Can" stoves, new and old. (Disclaimer: Site unavailable at time of this post, but it should be there. Please don't blame me if it isn't.)

And the big daddy of home made stoves, "Zen Backpacking Stoves".

For tips from master stove designer and maker Deems Burton, see the "Pika Alcohol Stove System". The first two images here are from his site.

OK, on to the newcomers. First, Instructables.

Try some of the following, and if they don't suit, keep looking:

Can Stove.

Least cost outdoor stove.

Wood burning stove.

Cool Little Miniature Stove!

Hobo Stove from Tin Can - Traditional High Tech Camp Stove.

Backpacking Stove from Aluminum Flashing

Ultra-simple, improvised camping stove.

Now for a few from Make magazine.

HOW TO - Make a portable camping stove.

Penny alcohol backpacking stove

A better soda can stove. And again.

And then of course, YouTube.

Fire-Spout Mini Wood burning camp stove. The Fire-Spout-Mini is a wood burning camp stove for the camper and backpacker, it will give a roaring fire within about three minutes of striking...

Homemade double jet alcohol stove. Homemade alcohol camping stove in action. Assembling stove and boiling water (half a liter in 3 minutes)...

Wood Gas Camp Stove. Vinay burns small sticks until he runs out. Potential part of Hexayurt unit...

Popcan camp stove. I built a camp stove out of a popcan and used isopropyl alcohol as fuel...don't try this unless you know what you are doing...

I personally think that the resources I reference in my book and on my web site are better all around. Better designed, better executed, with better instructions. But it's nice to see the videos. It means that it's all catching on. People find that they can make their own whatever. They aren't any longer dependent only on what they find on store shelves. That stuff is still there, but it becomes only one more option instead of the only choice at all.

I'm in favor.

By the way, I split out the stove instruction part of my book, so you can get that separately if you'd like. Really cheap for a PDF version.


Fire In Your Hand: Dave's Little Guide To Ultralight Backpacking Stoves

Dave's Little Guides Storefront

Make your own computer mouse from a real mouse. (This is too good not to include.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Of will, of nimbleness.

I don't know him, but it might be a good thing if I did.

I think I first heard of Nimblewill Nomad (the trail name of M. J. Eberhart), by stumbling over information on his packable wood burning stove, the "Little Dandy".

Whether he'd be glad to know me is a question not worth bothering about. I would be glad to know him. Anyone and everyone could learn from him, and that's the important part.

I've found that my local library has a copy of one of his books, "Ten Million Steps: The Nimblewill Nomad's epic 10-month trek from the Florida Keys to Quebec". I plan to read it soon. Maybe that's where I heard of him first, in some publication or other, mentioning this trip. The guy who made the 4400 mile hike from the Florida keys to Cape Gaspe, Quebec, along what is now known as the Eastern Continental Trail.

Hey. He's for real. As are most if not all long-distance hikers.

What's a boy do after spending 30 years as an optometrist? Make up for it. By, for example, hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the width of the United States from Cape Hatteras to San Diego, the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (from St. Louis to Cape Disappointment, Washington, and later, back again). And this year he's planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to wrap things up.

This 2008 hike will get him recognized as a triple-crowner, one who has completed the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails, but he hardly deserves any special recognition for that because he's already far exceeded what even most triple-crowners achieve.

One day, in another lifetime, maybe I can do some of this too.

Nimblewill Nomad web site
Little Dandy Stove
Little Dandy Stove
Ten Million Steps

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The others. We have convergence here.

"The One" by Gossamer Gear was my first subject. That got me thinking. This isn't the only light and small shelter on the market, but it illustrates a trend. Tents are getting smaller, lighter, and less tenty-er. Some of them.

Since this blog is called The Ultralighter, let's skip hexagonal domes that sleep eight people and two dogs, and shrug off antarctic gales. Leave them to companies with budgets in the millions, and paid reviewers. I'm talking about appropriate technology for a single person (or two) wanting small, light, and cheap shelter. So let's get on with it.

First, a disappointment, sort of. Besides getting smaller and lighter, ultralight shelters are generally getting more expensive. That's not surprising. When I got into ultralight backpacking about eight years ago it was more like the lunatic fringe, and you really had to want it. You had to hunt for the clubhouse door, and then knock like crazy before anyone let you in.

There were some early manufacturers that you could barely call manufacturers, and one or two of them are still around, but they ran small operations, made simple products, and had to live frugally on meager profits. No one was really buying.

One of my favorite companies, at least for inspiration, was Dancing Light Gear, run by Carol (Brawny) Wellman and David (Rainmaker) Mauldin.

Carol's designs were frighteningly innovative and amazingly simple if not always the most sophisticated or practical. The early companies were like that, and I don't mean this as a criticism. Anyone who can design a nine ounce pack around two concentric stuff sacks and then use it to hike the Appalachian Trail immediately goes onto my list of geniuses.

I've played with her concept of the seamless one piece shelter, and made a couple on my own. Every idea has limitations and these do too, but simple creativity can keep you coming back for another look, year after year. The Dancing Light Gear shop is now closed but Wellman and Mauldin's personal web site is still up (Trailquest), and still full of useful information. I recommend it.

Jonathan McCue at Moonbow Gear has had good ideas about shelters but I understand most of his success is with the Gearskin pack. (I have one of those too.) He was one of the leaders in light shelters, even if others have lately run farther downfield with the ideas. (See his Rocket and Wedge tarp tents, and his PowerPac system.)

The key manufacturers on my list today are Six Moon Designs,, Mountain Laurel Designs, and Gossamer Gear. Throw in Oware and AntiGravityGear for fun and you just about cover all cottage manufacturers making small and light shelters today.

Mountain Laurel Designs and Oware products lean toward tarps. specializes in relatively complex shelters. Six Moon Designs and Gossamer Gear strive hardest for the lightest fully enclosed shelters, but Six Moon Designs and are most similar in concept. Gossamer Gear wants to have the lightest you can get aside from tarps. Mountain Laurel Designs and Oware offer sophisticated simplicity at low weights because that's how tarps and near-tarp shelters work. AntiGravityGear is continuing Carol Wellman's concept.

This sounds pretty confusing. It is, with your eyes closed.

You need to visit their web sites and see their products and specs to get a good idea of what's going on. BackpackingLight is a great source of information too, especially for its hand-on reviews. It's worth paying $25 a year for full access to their gear reviews. Don't forget about BackpackGearTest either. It's free.

Here's a rough comparison giving manufacturer, name, weight, and price. Note that most of these shelters are either too small for two people, or good for only emergency doubling up. (Weights rounded up to the next ounce, given as ounces/grams. Some of these guys also have several products of one design but different materials too.)

Weight Manufacturer/Product/Price
------ ------------------------------------
05/142 Oware/CatTarp1.1/$76
06/170 Mountain Laurel/Patrol Shelter/$120
08/238 Oware/Alphamid/$400
09/255 Gossamer Gear/SpinnShelter/$195
09/255 Gossamer Gear/SpinnTwinn Tarp/$175
09/255 Mountain Laurel/Monk Tarp/$85
10/283 Oware/FlatTarp1.5/$51
11/312 AntiGravityGear/Basic Tarp/$139
11/312 Six Moons/Gatewood Cape/$110
12/340 Mountain Laurel/SuperFly Shelter/$255
13/369 Six Moons/Wild Oasis/$175
17/485 Gossamer Gear/The One/$275
18/510 Mountain Laurel/Spinntex MID/$375
20/567 AntiGravityGear/TarpTent/$229
23/652 Six Moons/Lunar Solo/$235

24/720 Mountain Laurel/Silnylon Mid/$270

I still prefer a hammock when I can use one, but as I said there's a trend. The trend is that single wall shelters are in. Makers are more inventive about size and shape, using custom wands as does, or designing around trekking poles (which you might be carrying anyway). The current watchword is ventilation.

Without ventilation a single wall shelter is nasty. Get a cool night and a high dew point together and you got indoor rain. You'd be surprised how slimy you and your sleeping bag can get from brushing against dripping walls on a dry night. Dry outside that is. You can get sopping wet from dew. So ventilation is what folks are perfecting these days.

What I like to think of as "horizontal entry" or maybe "parallel entry" is also part of the trend. Maybe there's a better term for it. What I mean is, instead of crawling into a long, narrow tent from one end, you enter on one of the long sides. More like rolling in.

The front is one of the long sides of the shelter, and the door is usually full width. You get a wide and high vestibule for eating breakfast in, or dressing. You get a good view out, in case you need to check on something, and you can basically open up one whole wall for ventilation. Better all around.

Some of these shelters are more like traditional tents and some more like traditional tarps, but they're converging toward lightness, compactness and ease of use. And less crawling to get in and out. Prices are also going up, but...

Nothing new there. Spinnaker cloth and Cuben Fiber fabric are really expensive, and the shelters made with them are too. You get more, it works better and it's way lighter than in the past, so the expense is worth it. And if not, there's last year's miracle, silicone coated nylon (silnylon), which is heavier, more durable and still expensive, but also way, way lighter than the old urethane coated nylon was.

And as always you can make your own. No really. I recommend Ray Jardine's tarp book, or just examine a shelter and copy it. There's lots of good info at Thru-Hiker as well, or on BackpackingLight.

See you later.



Gossamer Gear
Moonbow Gear
Mountain Laurel Designs
The Ray-Way Tarp Book
Six Moon Designs

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The One

GossamerGear used to be a hobby called GVPGear.

Once upon a time Glen van Peski had some ideas about backpacks and designed what he thought was a good pack for himself and a friend. Being generous, he offered the plans for anyone who also wanted to make a similar pack. But few did. They wanted to buy packs from him. Eventually, reluctantly, he began making them.

His business was GVPGear, and he called it a family hobby. His pack was called the G4.

In 2000 I bought one. After my first trip I had decided that I liked it so well that I wanted to be sure I'd never be without one, so I ordered two more, in case GVPGear ever folded. Mr. van Peski called me when he got the order. He had remembered my first order and wasn't sure if he'd messed up and somehow left that order unfilled, or if something else was going on. Sorry Glen.

Anyway, I eventually refined my tastes and sort of moved on. I sold one the the three packs, modified a second, and still have two of them. I also bought a later model as a gift for someone who was leaving town.

They were good. I learned a lot from them, and copied several features while designing and sewing my first packs, which I do now. The G4 is still being made, and has improved several degrees since I bought my first one.

Another interesting thing. The year I bought my G4s, Mr. van Peski compared his revenues and costs and discovered that he'd lost about $1.50 per pack on the 300 or so he sold that year, so he raised the price by $10. There's nothing like ethical business.

Eventually though the fuss of trying to run a hobby business took its toll. Mr. van Peski had to decide whether to quit his real business as a consulting civil engineer and starve to death (along with his dependents) or give up the pack making.

Enter friends and admirers, who took over the business and converted it to an actual commercial venture. It is now called GossamerGear, which all concerned think represents the nature of the backpacking products they sell.

I'm still on the list, and get the occasional email newsletter whenever it is mailed out. Just this week, in fact, another came along. They have a new product, do the GossamerGear-ers. It is called "The One". It is a tent.

It looks good. It is made of spinnaker cloth, a sort of fabric first used on sailboats, as you might guess from the name. It is the lightest of woven fabrics. This tent weighs a hair over 17 ounces. It has a floor. It is bugproof. This is interesting.

Myself, I normally use a backpacking hammock. Luckily there is such a thing because I can barely sleep on the ground (back problems, and age). But this is a good trend. People are catching on. As with a lot of backpacking equipment, I make my own shelters (as well as packs, and stoves, and some clothing, but not hammocks -- yet), but "The One" looks good.

Check it out. The price is $275.



New York Times story on ultralight backpacking titled "On the trail, with the clothes on your back and little more." by James Gorman (free registration may be required)

Other manufacturers of lightweight shelters:

Hennessy Hammock
Kifaru Tipis
Mountain Laurel Designs
Six Moon Designs
Speer Hammocks