Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Occasional Definitions: Kindling

Small twigs, split wood, heavy cardboard. Used in step two of starting a wood fire. Kindling is an arbitrary classification of burnable things encompassing anything bigger than tinder but smaller than fuelwood, whatever those things are.

From: Fire In Your Hand

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Low Tech Cookery Pottery

Poo-poo on tee-eye. Titanium (Ti) ain't what it's cracked up to be.

It is a metal incorrectly described by absolutely everyone stupid as "amazingly lightweight and strong, and perhaps the way to go if you're obsessive about ounces." It isn't.

Titanium is a metal. Titanium is light, compared to uranium, but not compared to steel.

Aluminum is the way to go if you're obsessive about ounces. Titanium is only 12% lighter than steel, though it has most of steel's strength. Aluminum is 54% lighter than steel and has 75% of steel's strength. Titanium doesn't ding or dent very easily (making it tough), and is highly resistant to corrosion (which keeps it pretty).

If you want a cooking pot and you don't care a lot about how pretty it is, but you do care about how heavy it is, then aluminum is the way to go. You sort of care how tough a pot is and you probably care a lot about how much it costs. You may also kind of care how gunky it's going to end up looking. Titanium is significantly heavier and vastly more expensive than aluminum, but tougher, and those who own titanium gear feel smarter because it looks new longer. A lot of people who feel that way don't go backpacking because if they go backpacking they will get their clothes dirty, they will get sweaty and tired, and they really above all want to keep that just-off-the-shelf look.

Titanium is for them. Titanium is for people who don't want to sweat or ever walk uphill.

I have a 16-ounce measuring cup from a company called Gooseberry Patch, and that's what I use. It cost $5.95 and weighs 1.8 ounces (16-ounce/2-cup volume = 0.47 L; 1.8 ounce weight = 51 g; $5.95 = cheap). It has no lid but it did come with a built in handle. The handle doesn't fold but it works. Even the stupid can make the handle work, which is a good thing for me. I use a piece of aluminum foil as a lid. Don't like it but it works. For the size and weight and price of the cup, it works. I can put up with the makeshift lid.

Titanium is more corrosion-resistant than iron, steel, or aluminum and is almost as strong as steel while weighing a tad less. Titanium is about as corrosion resistant as platinum. That says something. Its melting point is higher than that of steel or aluminum (about 400 degrees F above steel and 2000 degrees F above aluminum) and it's less likely to warp. Although expensive, it is getting cheaper as it appears in more and more products.

Titanium in particular is a tough metal to work, but its use by the military over the past half century or so has led to the development of manufacturing techniques that have made titanium practical as a material for consumer products, though it's still the expensive choice, at around $100 per pound.

OK, so where is this taking us?

To lunch.

Last weekend I bought some beans and salsa, onions, bell peppers, and a can of crushed tomatoes and made a big pot of eats. Most of it is in the freezer right now. Cheap food. Good.

I decided to save the can and play with it. The can is 4 inches in diameter by 4 5/8 inches high (10 by 12 cm). It holds 28 fluid ounces (0.83 L). It weighs 3 ounces (85 g). It is steel. It is sturdy, and it came free with the crushed tomatoes in it. I made a makeshift lid from an aluminum oven liner and a paper clip. Added weight, about 0.2 ounces (6 g). Round off the weight to 3.5 ounces, total (99 g).

Now compare that to REI's "Ti Ware Titanium Pot", which holds 0.9 L and costs $44.95. It weighs 4.05 ounces (115 g) and holds 30.43 fluid ounces (0.9 L), and measures 2.8 by 5.5 inches (7 by 14 cm). It is made of course of titanium. It is lovely.

The key here is that this baby holds 3.4 ounces more, weighs half an ounce more and costs $44.95 more than my can, which is a piece of garbage. Even accounting for the cost of the tomatoes, the difference is $43.97. The REI pot has a manufactured lid, which is nice. A $43.97 lid. And a big floppy handle, which is 99% useless anyway.

The can is not sexy at all, but it should be pretty good as a cooking pot. I only heat water anyway. Steel cans are tough, cheap, and available at every grocery. Remove the lid, the label, and rinse out, then use. Eventually it will start to rust, a little, but if you rinse it out after use and then heat it a bit before stuffing back into your pack, it won't hardly do that at all.

I like this. Will have to try it out soon. Way cool.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stress Me!

I just finished a moderate length backpacking trip: five days and five nights, about 60 to 70 miles, starting at noon on the first day and ending shortly after noon on the last day.

That sounds like a lot of mileage to some people, but all you really have to do is walk. Walk long, don't stop much, walk briskly, and the miles add up. I had to slow down the last two days to cover the time. That let me stop early on day four and sleep in a couple of hours on the last morning. My last night in bed was a long 14 hours, which felt really good.

Usually the first night is not great, but then I settle down and sleep well after that. It's part of the training experience. Every hike requires some adjustment no matter what shape you're in starting out. No matter what, you still need to get into condition.

Amount and quality of sleep is one factor, and is usually a one-night adaptation unless you set out with too little insulation. In that case, you're hosed.

Feet are a problem.

They take work and there is no substitute for calluses. To train for a backpacking trip you have to walk, and walking in the footwear you will be using is best. Get the sole of the foot tough, and develop some extra layers of skin wherever the toes contact the shoe. On this trip I was trying out some SmartWool socks. Very thin. So thin that I could see through the fabric. The socks worked fine.

Originally I wore boots with two pair of socks, then after switching to trail running shoes I continued wearing two pair of socks. Later I dropped down one pair. Worked even better.

Recently after reading through Andrew Skurka's web site I tried super thin SmartWool socks. He prefers DeFeet Wool-E-Ators but I couldn't find those locally. Anyway, the super thin socks worked even better yet. My feet had more room to move around, the socks moved with my feet inside the shoes, and they dried within a couple of minutes when I stopped and pulled off my shoes. They were also really quick to dry when I washed them.

The trick with feet seems to be building up calluses and keeping them as dry as possible during the day.

Knees are trickier. The older I get the more help I need, which is why I always use trekking poles now, but conditioning is still important. Downhills are the hardest on knee joints because most shock from the descent gets handled by the knee. Strong muscles and tough, resilient ligaments and tendons are important.

Again, hiking is the best training, but weight training and exercise can help a lot. Just sitting in a chair, extending the leg, and then raising it to horizontal and locking the knee, with as many repetitions as is comfortable can help a lot. A light pack is a real gift to the knees too.

Joints in general are weak spots. Hurt a joint and it might take weeks or months to recover, which is why it's important to stay in good shape between backpacking trips and over the winter months. Arm strength matters, if you're using poles, and your spine needs to be strong and flexible to handle the constant pounding of a long walk.

Muscles come around fast though, compared to joints. During the first two or three outings of the new year you can feel your body respond to stress. Just keep it reasonable and don't overdo it. Two week-long trips separated by a week or two off will show you how quickly the body can strengthen. But only if you don't hurt yourself.

Another area where training helps is in coping with food.

Sounds odd, but it's true. You can't eat the same foods on the trail as at home, or you won't be covering any miles.

For me a high fat diet on the trail helps to maintain an even strain, but this takes a little getting used to. The body has to learn to metabolize fat rather than sugars and starches, and this takes from a few days to a few weeks. Once the body is clued in to a high fat diet it has an easier time pulling fat out of the body cells (making you get leaner) and you get fewer caloric highs and lows during the day.

In town, at home, your body expects meals at set times, and may be used to getting a quick energy boost from meals of starchy or sugary foods. On the trail it works better (at least for me) to eat foods that give an energy push rather than an energy punch. This means adequate protein with most calories from fat.

I prefer to stop and eat, and I also like to sit for a hot meal in the middle of the day, which gives me time to wash up and do laundry, or at least time to rest for a few minutes. One meal in the morning, one at noon, and one in the evening work pretty well for me, but do what's right for you, and maybe smaller amounts of food eaten more often may work better. This is another part of the training experience.

Two other items are schedule and attitude. They affect each other. Keeping a regular schedule helps the body pace itself. Get to bed early enough and you can get up early enough. Eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty, and you can keep going all day every day. Maintaining strength and energy helps to keep your mind sharp and your spirits high, and that makes for a better trip.


Andrew Skurka
DeFeet International