Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Definitions: Water Bar

(1) Hiker trap. Something like a tank trap but for less intelligent moving objects, like backpackers.

The basic plan is to lay into the trail a stout plank or piece of timber, or a fence post, or even a line of stones. This cuts across the trail and downslope at an angle, ostensibly to route water off the trail, but really to serve as a toe stobber which will cause unwary plodders to trip and fall.

Extra points are awarded to the water bar engineer who can generate the highest number of face plants from one installation. Gold stars are awarded if stumblers vanish into deep trailside mud pits or ponds.

(2) A liquid dihydrogen monoxide (LDM) drainage diversion apparatus (LDMDDA). A drainage contrivance composed of an outsloped segment of tread inset with a barrier device (log, stone, or shaped timber) which is placed at a 45 degree angle to the trail tread. LDM on the trail will then not flow far and will not erode the trail, but will instead be diverted by

  1. The trail surface outslope itself, or
  2. The implanted barrier.

If (a), the trail surface outslope, then flowing LDM will shoot off the side of the trail and out into the air. In this eventuality one may hear an excited Weee! sound coming from the expelled LDM, which is known to enjoy the thrill of being flung into free space.

If (b), the implanted barrier diversion route, one may hear only a low, purposeless and disconnected gurgling as water collects and begins incipient bog formation next to the trail. Best to avoid these areas, my friend. Trail designers prefer drainage dips these days for clearing trails of superabundances of LDM, though the actual trail builders continue their preference for hiker traps because the latter provide a richer amusement quotient.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Definitions: Xerosere

We're dealing with plants here. Plants.

How plants start growing on bare ground, get old, die, and are replaced by other plants in succession. It happens.

Plants — all plants — like water. What is different here with this xerosere thing is that water is zeroed out. You can't expect things to work up too much speed in that environment, and they don't. What was our first clue?

The plants you encounter in xerosere conditions are likely to have bad attitudes, not to have team any spirit at all. They are loners with personality problems. Spikes, spears, thorns, prickles, pokers — any sort of jabby thing you can imagine — these plants have 'em.

Xeros means dry and a sere is one snapshot in the endless evolution of a community. Xerosere. Hardscrabble.

Start with a dry habitat. Say, for example, bare, hot rock, and move on from there, and you've got the idea. These places can be interesting in the way that dunes, sand deserts, salt deserts, and rock deserts can be interesting, mostly in a bleak and abstract way, but they never are all that welcoming, even if you're a plant with all sorts of spines and pokers pointing out in every direction. Even then you have to fight your way in, and then what have you got?

Get it?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Definitions: Ice Stars

When you decide to go winter camping there are 12 things you need to keep in mind.

First, it's going to be cold. The other 11 things don't matter. The cold does. Only the cold.

Say you wake up some morning after basically shivering all night, and the only reason you got any sleep at all was because all that shivering exhausted you and you finally passed out, and anyway you only slept about six minutes around dawn before you got painfully cold again and started shivering all over.

So say you wake up, and decide to get up and get the hell out of there and go home, but you discover that your butt is frozen to the ground and you can't move. You have two choices. Force it, and leave a lot of your ass still attached to the ground, or wait for a few hours until the temperature rises enough for your remaining body heat to do some good.

Hey, I know which option I'd choose.

So there you are with your rump on ice, killing time. With nothing else to do you begin to notice things. Small things. Things you ordinarily wouldn't notice at all, but now that you have hours to kill and a frozen keister you do notice them. Pointless things, like snowflakes. Little ice stars.

You have lots of them handy, so you decide to look for two that match. You learn valuable lessons from this. The main lesson is to never go camping in the winter again, but there are other lessons, like what lengths you will go to when you have an infinite amount of time to kill, and that snowflakes are made of ice (you should have known this but somehow it didn't stick) and that they melt when you breathe on them.

You also learn (while carefully holding your breath after the first few failed tries) that many, many snowflakes are really, really boring. In fact there is a whole infinity of boredom in a snowflake collection because, while each and every one of them does in fact seem to be a little tiny bit different, maybe, from every other one, maybe, they aren't really that different.

They're snowflakes. Frozen water droplets. And that's about it.

And really a bunch of them, a whole bunch, are simply flat, almost transparent six-sided crystals with no interesting detail at all, star-shaped or not.

And while some are feathery and intricate, once you've seen the first dozen or so you can't remember if the previous one is actually any different from the one you're looking at now. At all.

And feathery? How important is that anyway?

The only good news, if there is any, is that these teensy starry icy things form when the air temperature is between 3° F and 10° F (-12° C to -16° C), so you have a rough idea how cold the day is, if. If the flakes are falling at the time, and if you are at the altitude where they are forming. And so on.

But you don't know that now. You are frozen to the ground. You learn these interesting facts later, after you get home, sometime long after your tushie comes unstuck and you get it the hell out of there, and even when you learn about snowflake temperatures, you realize that it's basically useless information. Useless. The only practical knowledge you can squeeze out of this situation is what you already know intuitively, just lying there with your hind end in the firm grip of heartless ice, and that knowledge is that if snowflakes happen to be falling, and if you watch closely, and if you don't screw things up by breathing your dying-of-hunger stinky captive-animal breath on the fresh snowflakes, and they are melting anyway, despite your careful technique, well that means it's getting warmer.

Maybe warm enough for you to pull your tail out of the ice and drag it to somewhere more comfortable and never try this again.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Definitions: Hanging Food

(1) Bats.

(2) Fruits.

(3) Nuts.

(4) Spiders.

(5) Preferred method of punishment for those whose food has been very, very naughty, in countries where this practice is still allowed.

(6) A way of keeping food out of the reach of unwanted midnight snackers.

The conventional method of hanging food.

First get a rope. If you didn't bring one, then go home and start over.

Find two trees about 20 feet apart (6.1 m). If there are no trees in this part of the country then you are doing it wrong. Go home, pull out a map, and move to a part of the country that has trees, for crying out loud.

Your rope should be at least 60 feet long (18.3 m). Pick the first tree. Tie a rock or small animal (hamsters do have a use in backpacking!) to one end of the rope and throw it over a sturdy tree limb at least 17 feet or 5.2 m high (no one knows where the number 17 came from, so it must be correct).

Tie one end of your rope to the tree.

Go to the other tree and repeat.

Now take your second rope and tie one end to your bag of food. What? We didn't tell you to bring two ropes? Too bad. Go home and get another one.

Again, tie a weight to the one end of this second rope and sling it over the middle of the line you have strung between the two trees. (At this point in the process, use of your spare hamster is allowed, but is considered bad form — the first one should still be in working order unless you are very, very clumsy.) Hoist the bag of food by pulling on the free end of the rope that you tied to the food bag. Make sure when you are done that the food bag ends up at least 12 feet off the ground (3.7 m).

Now you will find that either the trees are too thin and lean toward each other when you do this, or that the first rope was tied too slackly. The result either way is that everything sags down toward the ground, and your food bag is probably three or four feet off the ground at best. Too bad. Start over, and keep trying until you get it right.

When your food has been hung high enough, tie the free end of the rope holding your food bag to one of the trees.

If you are camping in an area with educated vermin, you will find that they know which rope to chew through, so this method is useless.

Time to go home in disgust.


(Disclaimer: Go ahead and try this if you want, but the truth is that no one has ever successfully hung food this way, though various authors and government agencies keep repeating this bogus crap. Well, keep reading anyway — what else do you have going on?)

The counterbalance method is an alternate technique that needs only one tree, and does not require you to tie a line where sneaky drooling toothy critters can come along and chew through it.

The recommendations from Backpacker Magazine are to "locate a branch that's at least 20 feet up, sticks out at least 10 feet from the trunk, and is about an inch or 2 in diameter (strong enough to hold the food bag but too thin to support a bear)."


Go ahead and try it.

Won't work. Forget about an inch (2.5 cm). Forget about an inch or 2. You need a limb that is significantly thicker than two inches if you actually want your food bag to stay up there in the sky.

Finding a branch meeting all the listed requirements (and thicker too) may take several hours, and you might have to hike well into the next county to locate one, but this is important so don't let that stop you.

First, having found such a branch, take your trusty rope, weight one end with a rock or your hamster. (Let's call him Bob, and it helps if you can convince him to stuff some small stones into his cheek pouches for extra heft while you're at it).

OK, so Bob's on deck. Now what?

So hurl Bob over the tree limb. If you can't make it, don't feel bad. That's quite a long way up. Let's hope that Bob knows how to fall. Well, whatever.

Now, possibly hours later, having successfully hurled Bob over that limb, release Bob and tie his end of the line to your first food bag.

Whoa, didn't we tell you that you have to have two food bags now? Too bad. Go get another one.

Pull that first bag as high up as you can, and while holding it suspended, go get your second bag. Good job. (It's nice that you have those long, long arms, or this wouldn't nearly so easy.) So make a loop in the rope while holding the first bag suspended, and attach the second food bag to it.


At this point we should tell you that both bags need to weigh exactly the same amount, because they have to counterbalance each other. And you need six hands to do this, besides those long wiggly arms of yours.

OK, OK — once you've done all that, and while continuing to hold the first bag suspended, put any extra rope inside the second bag, and push that bag upward. The weight of the first bag will help to pull the rope over the limb until you've got the second bag as high as you can reach, which should be around seven feet, max (2 m and a skootch). Not good enough.

How about you go off and hunt around for a long stick? Does that work for you? How long? Say about six or seven feet (that 2 m and a skootch again). We'll wait here for you. Even if it takes weeks.

So then, you've got your stick now, and you can push the lower bag up higher and higher until both bags are hanging "at least 12 feet off the ground, 10 feet from the trunk and 5 feet below the branch. [3.7, 3, and 1.5 m, respectively] When time to eat, hook one of the loops with a stick and pull the bags down."

Loops? What loops?

Forgot to put nice loops up there somewhere? No problem, just do it all over, on your next trip, because you'll never get those loopless bags down. Ever.

Can't make your stick hook anywhere on either of the bags, even if you did put some loops in the line? So you can get your food down again? Once again, no problem, you're only screwed. Just finish your trip without food. The stress of starvation will provide a nice, rigorous tuneup for your immune system, in case you survive.

No, I've never seen anyone hang food this way either, but the same idiots keep writing it up over and over again.

As always, Effort or Eff it. Your call. No sniveling.

Source: How to talk in the woods.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Definitions: Krummholz

(1) Dorleen Krummholz, the first girl who ever agreed to go on a date with me.

She did this out on the playground on a clear September morning during recess.

This would be around sixth grade, which is a bit early to start dating, or at least it was a bit early in my day, but Dorleen was a big girl, forward for her age, and had me in a headlock at the time.

Her technique was, first the headlock of course, and then telling me what to say, and how to make it sound like a request, and then, to wrap it all up, she showed me this big grin full of teeth and said Yes!, with an undue amount of enthusiasm I thought at the time.

I remember the teeth because they were in front of me, right in front of me, really close to my nose, which she said she'd bite off if I didn't do what she said, and then she'd pound me too.

Since I still all too clearly remembered the first time she pounded me, there was no need to go through all that again, and anyway, the teeth.

So you learn to do what you have to.

Shortly after that, at the age of 12, I grew a beard, changed my name, and moved to a different continent, but still wake up in a cold sweat about every third night, or whenever I hear barking.

Dorleen used to bark a lot you see, and it spooks me something fierce, even when it's only my neighbor's dog going off again. His name is Tom. My neighbor's name is Federico, I think.

Anyway, Tom has this disturbing resemblance to you-know-who, so it might be time to move again, at least so I can get some sleep.

(2) Foliage that looks like Dorleen Krummholz. Literally it means crooked wood in German, which sounds about right in German, or in any other language really. Tough. Gnarly. Stunted. Bent. Undead.

(3) Krummholz is a high-altitude stunt-forest found right around treeline, where there is too little moisture, too little soil, too much wind and lots of winter.

It's patchy.

And although those krummholzy things are actually trees, genetically, in practice they are severely dwarfed and misshapen exercises in tortured vegetation due to the climate and the soils they grow in.

Given the barren rocky soils, the short growing season, and the smothering snowfalls, it's no wonder they call these barely alive ratty collections of woody despair procumbent.

Procumbent is a delicate way of describing something that lives a prostrate, beaten-down, and thoroughly unhappy life groveling in the dirt just for the chance to remain in place, suffer through another winter, and do it over again year after year forever, or until a long-delayed death happens to come for a visit.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Definitions: Titanium

(1) Titanium is... The Fairy Queen in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream? Nope. That was Titania. Dang.

(2) Titanium is... Proof that you've spent more money on your cook set (or stove, or boot lace tips) than anyone else in your hiking group (extended family, city, state, province, country, continent).

(3) Titanium is... Proof that you're trendy, and possibly an idiot, though still a trendy one. Let's hope you can dress the part.

(4) Titanium 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."

No, it isn't. But what would you expect to read in Backpacker magazine?

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

Stoveless and cook-pot-less and fuel-less is the way to go if you're obsessive about ounces, and can gag down cold suppers night after night.

Aluminum, however, is the way to go if you're obsessive about ounces and grams and price, and if you like to compare the weight of your tools to the weight of their shadows.

Titanium is only 12% lighter than steel, though it has almost all of steel's strength, while aluminum is 54% lighter than steel and still has 75% of steel's strength (Spot the trend here?), which is enough for a cook pot.

Titanium doesn't ding or dent very easily (because it's tough, which is nice), and titanium is highly resistant to corrosion (which means that it stays pretty). Since it is tough, it can be rolled thin. The thinner the material, the less there is of it, and so the less the finished product weighs, even if it's made from heavy materials, which is the real advantage of titanium.

But if you want a cooking pot and you don't care a lot about exactly how pretty it is, but you do care about how heavy it is, then aluminum is the way to go. You sort of care about how tough a pot is and you probably care a whole lot about how much it costs. You may also kind of care how beat up it's going to end up being, eventually, or not. Your call, eh?

Titanium as a material is significantly heavier and vastly more expensive than aluminum, but tougher, and those who own titanium items feel smarter because titanium 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 and they will get tired, and what they really above all want is to keep that just-off-the-shelf, crisply-pressed, newly-unwrapped look, while continuing to smell of aftershave. Titanium will help with that.

Titanium is for them. Titanium is for people who don't ever want to sweat or walk uphill or know that bugs might actually be attracted to them.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Definitions: Molded Plastic Zipper

This is the same sort of thing as the good old metal zipper of decades gone by, but with softer teeth.

Get caught in one of these and it's only a matter of being accidentally gummed, and not being actually deliberately dismembered by something desperately nippy, as happens with metal zippers, which don't play well with others, and which aren't amenable to any sort of negotiation.

A molded plastic zipper is in fact a miracle, composed of polyacetal resin, when it's not composed of polyethylene, both ever-so-popular plastics in use all over. The polyacetal stuff may be called Delrin, which is a brand name belonging to DuPont (E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company). Remember them?

Either way, whether you've got polyacetal or polyethylene, the teeth of such a device have their color built right in, and not painted on as is the case with metal zippers, when they are not either a naturally silvery color (probably aluminum) or a naturally coppery shade (brass).

As if you cared, out there in the bush, when all you want is something to eat, a bath, and a place to lie down for a month or so in front of a TV set.

But on the other hand, if you didn't want to get out there and hike around like crazy, and stink, and attract vermin, and get your hang-doodle caught a zipper twice a day (because you're crosseyed with fatigue), then why did you go?

Be glad then. You're lucky.

Be glad that you are hiking, and not back behind that desk in that cubicle, or stocking shelves at WhiffleMart, or in that workshop or whatever, dealing with morons, and slowly becoming one yourself. Be glad then that you can hike, and have zippers to play with. Zippers on your pants, your jacket, your sleeping bag and on lots of other stuff, and that you don't need to pin your clothes together with thorns like all the other animals do, though they are actually quite clever in their own ways, but hardly ever get to eat glop from a titanium pot and never have the slightest chance watch TV, even on their days off.

As always, Effort or Eff it. Your call. No sniveling.

Source: How to talk in the woods.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Definitions: Log Cabin Fire

This is the type of fire that uses layers of crisscrossed wood rising in a sort of stubby, flat-topped pyramid. It's good for making coals to cook over.

And funeral pyres. Almost forgot that.

Funeral pyres.

How To

(Just in case you're interested...)

Step One: Assemble wood.

Step Two: Go back to Step Zero, which is to go backpacking someplace where there is wood. You need wood to make a fire, so do that. After that then, proceed to Step One, and when you're tired of assembling wood, go to Step Three.

Because if you don't do that Step Zero thing, you'll keep hitting Step Two and getting bounced back to Step Zero and then you loop around through Step One and then Step Two and then Step Zero forever, or until someone finds you whirling in circles and swearing a lot, and decides to sit down and have lunch and watch while you amuse them, and then they'll go on their way, leaving you behind continuing to dizzy yourself like that, buzzing madly, endlessly cycling in an angry way, and who knows what could happen next? Just a word to the wise.

Step Three: I forgot what it was now.

OK, anyhow.

Subsequent Steps: Once you have the funeral pyre all stacked, and have placed the body on top, but before setting fire to the whole shebang, arrange your cooking pots and water supply in an orderly way, and get your food out and have it ready to go.

Note that this level of preparation is relatively more important if you are immolating something small, like an ant.

Better yet, a mosquito.

Mosquitoes kind of deserve it, don't you think? Anyway, small stuff incinerates fast, so you won't need such a largish fire, which means, conversely, that you gotta work fast and all that, before the fire goes out, which is why you need to have everything laid out and set to go and so on.

If you've got a water buffalo you're working on, then that's different.

Water buffaloes are bigger, doncha know? Than mosquitoes.

Technical types like to say things like orders of magnitude bigger, which to us ordinary people really just means extra bigger, but it sounds better when you have an engineering degree and frown and wave your eyebrows around while talking about concepts that are actually pretty simple, but you do have to earn your pay, so anyhow.

One way or another, try to get ready for what happens next. Which is setting fire to what you've got, so do that.

Now, if you're smart, if so, you've actually got a water buffalo up there, and lots of time on your hands, because here is how the smart guys do it, see.

You need to think ahead some, so you don't screw around toasting mice and sand fleas and crap like that, even if it's kinda satisfying to watch the little bastards go up in smoke, no, don't screw around. You don't want to starve out of spite.

What you want up there in the hot-seat is a large hunk of meat, which is your water buffalo or other beast which consists of many kilograms of nutriment, and then you roast the snot out of that, and then eat it (but none of the snot — you eat around that part).

You can say prayers and stuff too if you want, and have some kind of service in honor of the deceased but it isn't like you're flaming Uncle Albert all over again so that part is optional.

But it is true that when you go this route you're cooking supper and disposing of the evidence both, at one and the same time, which speeds things up considerable and reduces the need for any praying-type activities. And it cuts way down on court time and lawyer fees as well.

Now since it's a huge chunk of meat you got, and will take a while, and because a fire big enough to cook it all will be huge (HUGE!) you need to go and do something else for a while to kill time, which is why you need a hobby, or a bar of soap, either one.

Go play (hobby) or wash up (bar of soap) while you're waiting, but do it at a distance, and if you put up your tent during this period, do it upwind because sparks and such. Once you lose your tent to a pile of roasting meat sparks you've learned your lesson for life, and you can do that too if you really want to, like if you have a spare tent and can let the first one flame out on you. I have learned and/or done that twice now, so I know. (Slow learner? Yeah, maybe.)

But lesson learned, hey, finally.

And then eventually, after time goes by, you'll have a pile of steaming roast beast there, smoldering among the coals of the collapsed fire and then you eat.

Invite some friends.

Nothing says "Gorge until you puke and keep doing that as often as you want, etc." like a thousand pounds (500 kg or so) of smoking herbivore.

Which brings us back once again to the fire itself.

Since this type of fire architecture is ideal for generating mounds of hot coals, you might want to have something else to cook, like dessert — maybe a few dozen apple pies or so, for example, but after you've personally eaten your own weight in mammal meat, several times over (allowing for random purge-barfing and adjusting for nausea and smoke blindness), there isn't much else your heart desires, even apple pie.

Although if you've gotten someone to bring over a few cases of beer you can piss yourself silly putting out the fire once you're all done.

Which is generally satisfying and one of the most fun things you can do with your bladder any more, and it never gets old.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Definitions: Cat Hole

Howdy. Care to dig one for doody?

A cat hole is a kind of outdoor safe deposit box where you can leave something you don't want to forget about, so you can forget about it.

If you carelessly leave the wrong sort of stuff lying around on top of the dirt you can find out too late that you've gone and put your foot in it, which happens sometimes, if you forget where you put it, so you dig a little hole and put it in there for safe keeping, and then forget about it, for real. And have no further need to watch where you step.

Stuff, defined, is what you DO NOT want to discover (too late) that you HAVE put your foot in. Understand?


Poo. We're talking poo here. Poo and you. Poop. About "Leaving a Fernando." "Saying goodbye to Fernando." "Giving Fernando a farewell party." "Burying Fernando." 1

Because you never want to look down at your foot and find yourself saying "Howdy, doody!" Nope. Not now, not ever, so you give it a respectable but quick sendoff via burial. In a cat hole.

The high priests of trailside excavations say that a proper cat hole should be dug six to eight inches deep (15 to 20 cm), and be at least 200 feet (60 m) from water, from your camp, and from the nearest trail.

And when you've dug it, filled it, and uh...refilled it, you should camouflage it.

Camouflaging a cat hole is easier to do if you bring along a roll of camo wiping paper, which you can buy now, but then again the use of paper is getting to be frowned on too. Most especially if any kind of paper at all is left anywhere near the surface of the ground, so even camo paper won't really work. Life, she seems to have become complicated all too quickly in our modern times.

So, actual camouflage. Hmmm....lessee?

Well, you can try gathering twigs, moss, and whatnot (fortunately, there is usually a lot of free whatnot close to hand in the woods), and building a little replica of your camp over the filled hole, in case someone does find what you deposited and wants to know more about the artist it came from. Unlikely, but there are people out there with increasingly odd hobbies. And then there's law enforcement, like park rangers, forest rangers, and other official types who wear funny hats, are employed to do certain things for money, and who ofttimes have strange or obscure duties such as Poo Patrol, which may end up pointing them in your direction.

And on occasion one or more of these people may become twitchy and go snooping around exactly who-knows-why for exactly who-knows-what, and may find something you left, so that possibly limiting one's camouflage efforts to a clever but not-too-specific sort of enterprise might be a decent idea. But then again it couldn't hurt to show how truly creative you can be, so feel free to get down there and play with it if that's your style.

Because, if you do build your little campsite replica well enough, or, for example, you build a tiny fort instead, and do it really well, it's possible that you could win an award. For it. Not likely, but ever more possible in our rapidly evolving culture.

Truly, anything is possible. You know life these days, when reality is what appears on television, and no less. If you don't know about that, or about life these days, then try an internet search for "weird news". But if you are lazy and don't want to bother, then just check out the following two items (both so precious that they have been tucked away for future generations by the prestigious Internet Archive itself):

So far the Academy Awards and the Emmys and all those other famous awards events are still the big guns, and limited to dramatic presentations (i.e., deliberately fictional news), but who knows which way the next wind will blow? Just to keep yourself in the running, try scattering a few mints in the area to catch the attention of rambling, roaming, vagabond, freelance poophole reviewers. Probably couldn't hurt. Could score you a few brownie points, as they're called.

Plan B: Use your Take Your Cat To Camp day pass.

It's about time anyway, wouldn't you think?

Cats don't get out nearly enough, and who knows more about digging a cat hole than the inventor of said facility? Learn something actually useful and take advantage of your special interspecies relationship while offering your cat a chance to earn its keep.

When not digging holes or pooping, cats sleep. Cats sleep almost all day, every day, and because of that they can't sleep at night, so they're up then, wide awake, full of energy, and doing who knows what, so try this: Put a leash on your cat and take it along when you go out to hike the Continental Divide Trail, for example. Then watch it and do what it does when it does that thing that cats do when not sleeping or eating. Dig it?

Then for those times when you're not watching your cat poop, and when the sky turns dim and dark and you lie down and close your little eyes to sleep, you can snore free of mousie fears. Because Kitty is there. Which is a good deal for you, unless Kitty decides Enough is too much already and bails, suddenly heading for provinces unknown, leaving you alone, when you'll have to fight off the evil mice all on your own, but by then your episodes of cat watching should have provided plentiful clues about how to manage your life the Kitty Way™. If you have any brains up there.

Hello? Brains? You still in there?

But if your cat does stay with you all the way from the Mexican border way way far north into Yellowstone National Park, or even beyond, closer to Canada, into Glacier National Park for example, and you do finally one day bump into one of those big grumpy toothy bears, well, what could be better to throw at it than Fluffy?

Cats — the original multi-function pets. So versatile. Too bad not all pets were so cleverly designed. (Don't try getting all fancy like that with a budgie. Hopeless, budgies. Just so you know.)

-- footnotes --

(1) All this has probably maybe very little or almost no actual connection to Fernando Poo, also less imaginatively known as Fernão Pó, or sometimes as Fernando Pó, after whom the island of Fernando Poo was named.

Erstwhile inhabitants, once known as poopians now find themselves living on an island unimaginatively renamed to Bioko (and even more formerly, once upon a time in dreary ages past, called Otcho, they say). Maybe the previous demonyms were bonkos or otchons or something, but no one seems to know, or care, and somehow the people there got by all the same.

"Poopians", however, is a real attention-grabber. Yeah, grabber — maybe not the best word either, in this context, but the total number of words is actually limited by binding international conventions, and many of them are also woefully over-used, so we'll leave this one hanging for now, right where it is.

What drew Mr Poo to his magical island was wood, for that island, the island of Fernando Poo, whatever it may have been called at the time, was once widely known for its vast tracts of tropical shittah trees, the only source of shittim-wood, a product pretty much no good for anything at all except, surprisingly, making arks, back in the day when there was a desperate but brief flurry of ark manufacturing.

Animals don't like to gnaw on shittim-wood (And who would?), which is nice if you're out there in your ark in a world covered by sudden oceans and no place to go for repairs in case the critters get uppity one day, maybe out of boredom or uncontrollable peevishness due to long confinement, and decide to chew the snot out of the only floating vessel in the world.

Anyhow, the island in question is real, part of a small archipelago in the Republic of San Serriffe. Perhaps you've heard of the now more renowned neighboring isles, Upper Caise and Lower Caise. Or maybe not. Who can say? But all this information is, of course, as always, completely and satisfyingly true, and will very soon be broadcast on television for your edification, which is of course absolute proof of veracity, in case you still had a minor doubt or two.

As always, Effort or Eff it. Your call. No sniveling.

Source: How to talk in the woods.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Definitions: Dyneema

Dyneema is a material invented in 1963 and now produced by the Dutch company DSM ("Koninklijke DSM Naamloze vennootschap". To this day we continue to use the English translation of the company's original name, the Nederlandse Staatsmijnen, Dutch State Mines, signifying both our heritage and how far we've come in just over a century.). It is made from ultra high molecular weight polyethylene.


Ethylene is a simple organic chemical (C2H4). Cram it together with water in the right way and you have ethanol, or drinking alcohol (unless you're an ultralighter, in which case you don't drink it but only burn it in your stove to heat noodles for lunch.)

Polyethylene is a chain of ethylene molecules, a polymer. (Poly, get it? "Many, much, multi, more", poly. Polymer.)

So there we have it. Dyneema exists as superlong polyethylene chains all in a bunch. Super super super long polyethylene chains. Very tough too. This helps make Dyneema resistant to most chemicals, to UV radiation, and to micro-critters that might try munching it. In other words, Dyneema is hard to kill just like ordinary old polyethylene, the stuff clear plastic bags are made of, but tweaked, of course.

Officially, Dyneema is known as "High Modulus Polyethylene" or "HMPE", which, if you look that up, takes you back to "ultra high molecular weight polyethylene", which is about where we started with this definition. Big help there, right?

You might also see "HDPE", which stands for "High Density Polyethylene". But you don't need to care, really. Though now you know, in case you are ever asked. Welcome to the club.

OK, so back to the real world. This stuff doesn't absorb water or even easily get wet. Likewise, it feels slippery. It's so slippery that a Dyneema cord won't hardly hold a knot even if you put one there. So what's it good for then? Well Dyneema is used in webbing, specialized rope and cordage like ship's hawsers, body armor, and in making a ripstop fabric called Dyneema Gridstop, something that is used in packs and is loved by backpackers, who are always on the lookout for the next unicorn of fabrics, so maybe you've heard of it already.

That Gridstop, as used in packs, isn't all Dyneema though, just some of it is. You can easily see the Dyneema part — it's the reinforcing threads, which show up white. They show up white because Dyneema, like Spectra (another miracle material), is impervious to dyeing. (Dyneema and Spectra are actually just two brand names for what is almost exactly the same thing.)

Dyneema is gnarly, seriously gnarly, and currently holds the world record as the strongest synthetic fiber in existence, at eight to 15 times the strength of old-fashioned steel. It's also 40 percent stronger than aramids, also known as ye olde "aromatic polyamides" (Kevlar for example), and has twice their cut resistance.

Spectra, to get back to that for a moment, is also less strong somehow than Dyneema, at up to only 10 times the strength of steel, max, or so they say. Dyneema, in case you were wondering, and definitely unlike steel, is light enough to float, while exhibiting a resistance to many chemicals (like water) that is way beyond steel's as well.

Elsewhere in the commercial world, Dyneema has been sneaked into climbing equipment, shoes, and luggage, among other ordinary things.

Though all of the High Modulus Polyethylenes have a lot of strength for little weight, no matter what they're called, they do have a seriously weak spot — they melt at relatively low temperatures. What's low? Somewhere between 266° to 277° F (130° to 136°C), for Dyneema, which hardly rates a woot, so we won't give a woot. Not here, not now, and probably not ever.

So anyway, what else?

Well, while all these HDPE variants could easily be made into a much wider range of fabrics because humans are clever and capable of such achievements, their chemical makeup of extremely long molecules of almost inert substances produces a slippery feel that gives people creepy feelings if it's used in clothes, for example, so it isn't, although HMPE could make your underwear bullet proof.

Something to think about.

We few, we grumpy few, we rumply-hat geezers say to you Effort or Eff it. No sniveling.

Source: How to talk in the woods.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Definitions: Endangered Species

(1) Food that is not fun to eat, and the people who don't eat it, and get hungry, and die out.

If your food is fun, it's because it has flavor. Flavor is good. If food is not fun it won't get et, but will get dumped behind a rock. And then if you don't eat, you die, so listen up.

Food that was fun once, but isn't fun any more gets that way when its natural flavoring substances grow old and feeble, and join the ranks of the undead, like that stuff creeping around the bottom of your pack. Go get a light and peek in there sometime — you'll see. (Prolly more than you want to.)

Hey lookie. Spices.

Spices help. And sometimes spices partly revive even moribund food. The original four spices were saffron, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, but they are outmoded now. Luckily we have beer. Beer goes with anything and improves everything. Beer is especially great because it contains its own water, plus vitamins, minerals, and bubbles. And it comes in sealed containers and requires no intelligence to use — just keep opening additional, pre-measured beer units as needed, anytime, and you'll do fine mostly.

For example, here is a simple recipe for a life-saving, nutritionally-complete beer soup:

  • Pour beer into a bowl.
  • Eat delicately with a spoon, or, if no one is looking, stick your head in and lap it up.

And here's another, higher-calorie version:

  • Fry bacon.
  • Grate a slab of cheese.
  • Simmer vegetables with butter, salt, and any seasonings you have or can steal.
  • Crumble dark bread.
  • When the vegetables have quit struggling, add bread and beer and simmer a little more.
  • Dump bacon and grated cheese on it and eat.

Even simpler bacon-cheese-beer soup:

  • Buy more beer. (Always fun.)
  • Toss stuff into a pot. (Vegetables and whatever. No one cares what, you know?)
  • Simmer.
  • While that's going on, sit in the shade and drink beer until you get really, really hungry.
  • Eat the soup.


  • If at any time you can't stand up without help, you had too much beer. (However unlikely that is, though it has been rumored to happen.)
  • If you can't find the soup, use a bigger pot next time, and paint it red. Tie a string to it and then to your pants, unless you are naked. If so, then tie to your Uncle Wiggly. (You won't wander too far — we guarantee it.)
  • If you feel fancy, throw bacon and cheese into the soup, on top of whatever it was you already put in there. Seriously — no one gives a honk what, but bacon OMG, eh?
  • If this recipe is too hard, skip all the work and just eat the bacon and cheese. Tastes good. (But don't forget the beer. Never forget the beer.)

"Going Commando Soup" — strip your soup to the basics and let your stomach do the work. Here's how:

  • Open a bag of chips.
  • Eat from the bag.
  • Drink beer.
  • Repeat until the chips are gone or you can't find the bag even with both hands, or you are out of beer. The calories will take care of themselves.

(2) Endangered species are animals that can't compete, due to ineptness at marketing or reliance on primitive, outmoded technology like dialup internet. This also applies to some plants, usually the duller, plain green ones that no one really cares about anyway. Meh.

As always, Effort or Eff it. Your call. No sniveling.

Source: How to talk in the woods.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Definitions: Ow!

OW is a word used most often for the amusement of companions.

It really works best this way, which is a good reason to have friends, or at least one or two random people who have nothing better to do than to go hiking with you. And if that doesn't work, there is probably a cell phone app so you can pay someone to pretend they can stand you for a couple of hours.

Anyhow, OW.

OW is rarely used alone. It's a start, but is usually accompanied by other words like @#$%&!, expressions which convey a special enthusiasm, or by ritual body movements, such as sucking on fingers or shaking one hand wildly in the air while hopping on one foot. (The "OW Hop".)

There is a statistically significant association between these words, these actions, and activities such as removing hot cookware from a fire without a pot gripper (dumb), or using random lumpy rocks as hammers to pound stakes (more dumb).

In this sense OW is sometimes mispronounced as OUCH (or even OWICH), "an interjection that denotes pain", as your high school English teacher might put it, clueless. (Why do we need to study English anyway? For those of us who already speak it? Why don't we have an expression class? Learn to share ideas and think and write? Have fun? OW! There's an idea.)

OW! — Over Weight.

If you've been bitten by the packweight bug then you've entered a new dimension, one in which you are judged by numbers. Random, arbitrary numbers.

If the numbers you choose to associate with are smaller than the next person's numbers, then you are not over weight, they are. (Note: the term "over weight" applies only to pack weight, and size. If you are a big hootin' hollerin' honking doofus, nobody cares, mostly, if you bathe regularly, if you have a pack so small, so tiny, so light that you can only pick it up with the tips of your fingers.)

Over weight is a sin, the first sin, the original sin, the Sin of Infinite Stink for ultralighters.


Because we need a standard to judge you by. Because. Because if we don't judge you then we have to judge ourselves, and OW! — we don't want to do that.

Because if you have a standard to judge other people by, then you can do it and say because. "Because it says so right here on the weight chart. Your base pack weight can't be over 9 pounds (4 kg for metroids), or you're a total dick. We don't talk to dicks. They can't be in our club. OW! So go away. But not so far we can't see you and keep judging you."

Which results in another OW! response for you, a bad one. You go home and wonder "How Far Along Am I, Really?", and you think about life and if it's worth it, and if you'll ever get there even if you take out a second mortgage and buy that three-and-a-half ounce (99 g, eh?) crinkly titanium-foil pack that's too small to actually carry anything in. (So it stays at three and a half ounces forever, right? No matter what? Right?).

And then you think some more and finally have that enlightenment moment when you say "OW!, hey. I'm owl wright just liek I am — I'm gonig to HMOH and ful speed ahead and so on," completely forgetting how to use a spell checker and picking up random acronyms without knowing what they mean but it's all OK now. You have moved beyond OW. You are no longer Over Weight.

You now know everything. Everything that matters anyhow. Because. Because you just know it. And so, by a simple change in attitude you have become Omnisciently Wonderful (OW!). So you start your own dance meditation studio (PrancyDancyMed), but no flapping hands and hopping and howling in pain any more. Now you help others move from a life of bumping into walls and slamming their fingers in car doors to one of grace and light and hip humping and cool booty grooving. (If they purchase the premium plan of 12 easy monthly payments.) Life is good again, such as it is. OW!

Then you die.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Definitions: Water

Water is a well-known but clear, odorless, tasteless liquid said to be necessary for life (i.e., your familiar animals and plants, plus a few creepy things you don't want to hear about).

Water is also known as a chemical substance composed of hydrogen and oxygen and vital for all known forms of life, which we just said. (Were you paying attention there?)

Anyhow, water is a chemical compound, officially, and its formula is H2O. Meaning that it has two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. That sounds significant and definitive. However no one really knows what atoms are. No, not really.

It is possible, with the right equipment, to capture various kinds of images of atoms, mostly the big, slow, dumb atoms that can't get out of the way or hide in the bushes when they hear scientists coming, so who knows about the other ones, the smaller, more nimble, and possibly cleverer ones like hydrogen, and even oxygen? Eh?

That's a puzzle right there.

Water occurs at room temperature as a clear, colorless, odorless, tasteless liquid. (I know — we keep repeating that too.) It solidifies at 0 degrees Celcius and boils above 100 degrees Celcius (or 32° and 212° Fahrenheit). Beyond that, no one really knows a lot about it, except that water is commonly and widely used as a solvent. So is paint thinner, but how often do you make coffee with paint thinner? Not really much help there, was that?

Water also frequently occurs naturally as snow, as ice in glaciers, ice packs and icebergs, as droplets in clouds, fog and dew, in subsurface aquifers, and as atmospheric humidity. Talk about being shifty and hard to pin down — water is all over the damn place, in everything, and goes under a wide variety of disguises and aliases.

So is there more to this story than all those smart people are letting on? Maybe. Pretty sure about it in fact.

Until we find out more, it might be best not to trust water too much. At least keep your eyeballs peeled for anything unusual. Drink sparingly. Wash only if you have to. Spend more time talking to the cat. Cats and water, you know — there's something going on there and it might pay to clue yourself about it. We'll get back to as soon as we have additional info.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Definitions: YMMV

(1) Yum-vee. The faded red, dented, rattling 1956 Ford pickup truck whose driver unexpectedly finds you on a deserted anonymous gravel road 25 miles from the nearest town, where the trail just happens to cross it, for no particular reason, and takes you and your pack into town, and buys you all the food you can eat at the town's one cafe, buys you a few beers, and lets you stay in his basement bedroom for the night, and then drives you all the way back to the trail the next day, just because he's always wanted to hike out there but never really knew where the trail went or what it was all about until you came along, and when he finally drops you off he hands you a whole, carefully wrapped, precisely-made apple pie that his wife baked overnight, for you. Yummy victory. You cry quietly. After eating the pie, and licking the pan. And thinking about eating that too.

(2) Yo! Mama! Make veggies! The perennial howl of the thru-hiker walking off the trail famished for fresh foods like mashed potatoes and melons, like carrot, cantaloupe and cauliflower crepes, wafer-thin water cress, winter nellis pear, walnut, wheat and wasabi waffles, french fried green tomatoes, fig, filbert and fruit salad served on a bed of flaming hot Cheetos, or perhaps radish, raspberry, red grapefruit, relish, red bean, ricotta cheese, romaine lettuce and rye bread sandwiches. More veggies, please! Of course during your hike your system has grown totally unaccustomed to real food, so you will, for a while, do a lot of running. How much? No one can say for sure, so, in other words, your mileage may vary.

(3) Yawning Man of the Mountains of Vermont. A creepy but sleepy East Coast cousin of Sasquatch. Said to like nothing better than to sidle into a camp and slide into someone's sleeping bag while the campers are out exploring for the day. Usually leaves after a short nap, but telltale signs that you've been YMMV'd are a lingering smell of dog-monkey, long, stray, bright red hairs in your sleeping bag, and occasionally, feces left in the tent, usually inside or under the sleeping bag. So whenever you're out camping, lie there for a while and listen as night draws near. If you hear a yawning sound, that may be your companion in the next tent but maybe not. And if, the next morning, your companion in the next tent isn't in the next tent but is missing, and you find long, stray, bright red hairs, and experience the lingering smell of dog-monkey, well, don't waste your time searching. Your friend will not be back. But on the bright side you have inherited some camping gear, and you can always use more of that. (Be sure to wash it thoroughly before use.) ( )

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Fresh, June 4

APOD Shadowrise and Sunset.  The scene records the warm light of the Sun setting in the northwest and the planet's dark shadow rising in the southeast.  Visit site  ▷

The New York Review of Books The Paris Catastrophe.  If Trump's withdrawal is potentially disastrous for the planet, it is even more catastrophic for America.  Visit site  ▷

ENO — Eagles Nest Outfitters Quilts or Bags?.  [infographic]  Visit site  ▷

Euroschirm Swing-handsfree, Wanderschirm — Rucksackschirm.  The handsfree umbrella system.  Visit site  ▷

Knowledge Weighs Nothing What To Do In Dangerous Wildlife Encounters.  [infographic]  Visit site  ▷

Ecology Cartoons Cartoons Ecology Biology Environment Wildlife Nature.  By Peter Ommundsen.  Visit site  ▷

ALDHA-West "Monumental" Opportunity for Comments.  The Department of the Interior (DOI), has issued a notice to the public that it is inviting public comment on 27 National Monuments which are under review.  Visit site  ▷

DiscoverMagazine If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapsed...  What happens there could reshape life along the coasts.  Visit site  ▷

The Independent Atacama Desert, Chile.  Exploring one of the world's most extreme environments.  Visit site  ▷

The Adirondack Almanack Tim Rowland: Adirondack Ticks.  Ticks have moved up on the Most Feared Insect ladder, thanks to the spread, and the greater understanding, of lyme disease.  Visit site  ▷

Adventure Journal When A Rattlesnake Comes to Call.  Our home welcomed us with open jaws.  Visit site  ▷

Bogley Outdoor Community Hypothermia — Scary and no joke.  This is my first experience seeing someone with real hypothermia. Unfortunately, that someone was my son.  Visit site  ▷

Gore-Tex Blog Poison Ivy Cures: How to Avoid & Treat Poison Ivy.  And if you make contact?  Visit site  ▷

The Ultralight Hiker The Lie of the Land.  Whichever way you move, whether up or down, or in any direction, you are always conscious of being in a sort of bowl.  Visit site  ▷

The Ultralight Hiker Whoopie Slings - Great Hammock Idea!  These would work with any kind of hammock, and can be bought separately from them.  Visit site  ▷

PopUpBackpacker Set Up Your Compass Faster & More Accurately With A Map Protractor.  Today one can get the declination of any location in the US at  Visit site  ▷

PopUpBackpacker How To Become (or not become) A Famous Backpacker.  Tracking The Pilgrim's Progress.  Visit site  ▷

PDN Photo of the Day What Is It about Owls?  Maybe it's that piercing gaze. The owl is the only bird with eyes in the front of its head.  Visit site  ▷

Olga Petroff Filed under photography landscape.  Dubai based editorial designer and photographer.   Visit site  ▷

Colossal New Balloon Sculptures Depicting Animals and Insects.  Masayoshi Matsumoto.  Visit site  ▷

My Modern Met Drone Photographer Captures Stunning Aerial Photos of South Australia's Coast.  Photographer Bo Le  Visit site  ▷

Feature Shoot Eerie, Fantastical Photos of Wildlife and People.  The deer, the moose, the owls, the bears.  Visit site  ▷

— Links to external images are removed after one week. —

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Improve Me Once Already! (Alcohol Stove Version)

Use these to cook like an effer.

I've been ruminating. I do that, mainly while walking.

Lately I've been thinking about stoves again, alcohol stoves. I picked up this round of stove fever after reading some old posts about poncho tarps from 2006. Besides doing some fun things with tarps, the author designed and made his own alcohol stove. Like every other alcohol stove in existence, his was the most efficient.

I have done it too. If you start using an alcohol stove you'll likely take your own whack at it. Harmless fun. There are probably hundreds of designs out there by now and they are really two or three basic designs endlessly repeated, with all the same advantages and flaws mirrored in the other designs.

But I did get thinking again.

So what then does it take to make an efficient stove system? More than a stove. The stove is one component, but not the only one. It is a system. There is a cook pot and a way to support it, protection from wind and rain, and sometimes even more components. So what's the deal then, really?

That brings us to now. By writing my thoughts I'll be able to judge the sense of them. Putting together a cooking system is a whole nother thing, as they say. Making one thing better than the others takes a lot of trials and enough record keeping to allow actual comparisons. It takes time and effort and usually one gets bit in the butt.

Knowing and doing are not necessarily related, but the thinking is the most important part, so here come the thought drops.

Ground rules:

  • Let's assume that we're heating water — no actual cooking.
  • No simmering.
  • No roasting.
  • Just heating clean water to a boil or close to a boil.

As I see it, there are at most 4 possible ways to improve the cooking performance of an alcohol stove. (When I say "stove", that's everything needed to heat water: stove, windscreen, pot, pot stand, additional thinamajigs, and so on.)

The four basic ideas are:

  1. Increase stove efficiency.
  2. Increase pot efficiency.
  3. Optimize the exhaust gas dwell time.
  4. Optimize the windscreen.

1. Increase stove efficiency.

There are several ways to do this. Making the flame as efficient as it can be is a decent place to start. An efficient flame, all other things excluded, is partly a matter of keeping it small. (Or actually, right-sized.)

A right-sized flame allows cleaner burning and less flame wasted in shooting off to places where it won't do anything.

For the best flame we should optimize the flame height, the flame shape, the flame-to-pot distance and the flame's contact patch on the bottom of the pot.

I'm not providing any details here on what or how, only noting that these are areas to think about during design.

We also need to isolate the flame from drafts.

Along with this, it's important to reduce heat lost from the stove body itself. This happens by conduction, radiation, and convection. Conduction losses are into the surface that the stove is sitting on. It shouldn't be in contact with any other surfaces but it has to be. With the ground for sure, and with some setups the pot sits directly on the stove. Any conductive loss in that case would be into the cook pot, which would be good if it heated water faster, or bad, if it made the stove less efficient.

I think that it's also a good idea to reduce the stove's heat gain to the optimal amount. A stove has to consume some of the heat it produces or it will go out, but that amount of its output is small. Let the stove soak up too much of its own output and you have a runaway reaction.

A too-hot stove runs too fast and produces an uncontrolled flame, which blows heat all over without putting it where it's needed, so controlling stove overheating by controlling excess radiation and convection inside the system is important too. The stove should generate hot gases which transfer heat to the cook pot and not back to the stove.

So far this sounds reasonable. The next area to think about is to...

2. Increase pot efficiency.

There is an optimal size and shape of cook pot for every stove. The cook pot has to have a large enough surface area to absorb the maximum amount of heat energy. There is more than one way to do this.


One way is internal to the pot. Make a pot with a heat exchanger built in. I don't know of any pot made for any cooking system anywhere that has this. What I'm talking about is the equivalent of a standard, building-size steam boiler but sized down for backpacking use. Most people haven't seen a boiler. I worked at a junk yard one summer, and saw one. It looked goofy. It's not what you expect.

Check out the fire tube. (via

You see a steam locomotive and you think it's a big tank lying on its side with a fire underneath. Nope. Isn't.

It is a big tank with tubes running through it.

They come in two forms. Either the tank is full of water and fire runs through tubes inside the tank, surrounded by water, or the tubes contain water and fire burns in the tank around them.

Either way radically increases the surface area available for energy transfer, and radically increases efficiency. I don't know how to make this in a cook pot of a 24 ounce / 700 ml size, or of any size. If anyone, anywhere in the world makes a cook pot like this, you can bet that it's too big and heavy for backpacking, but it's nice to daydream about. I'd assume that my 700ml pot would weigh around 1 to 2 pounds (500 to 1000g) and cost $100 or more, due to the huge complexity involved in making it. That would be for a pot with water inside and fire running in vertical tubes through the pot.

The Kelly Kettle is the only thing anywhere near this.

Kelly Kettle


That's an what I call an internal heat exchanger. The kind you might actually see is an external one. Some canister stoves use this sort of thing. The "MSR XPD Heat Exchanger" is one. It's a piece of corrugated metal that wraps around a cook pot and "funnels heat up the sides for faster, more even heating". Or so they claim, and they may be right.

Couldn't hurt, eh? Well, at $40 and 6 ounces / 170 g, it's a stretch for a canister stove used sitting in a campground. At that weight, it's heavier than a lot of complete alcohol cooksets (stove, pot, windscreen, and so on). And more expensive too. But the bigger issue is whether it would help. Probably not much. Heat running through it would transfer faster to the relatively colder air around it than to the relatively hotter put it's connected to. And there's an infinite amount of cold air available every day, all day.

MSR XPD Heat Exchanger (image via REI)

Selecting the right pot.

The third way to increase surface area is by choosing the right cook pot. The pot with the biggest bottom wins. Shoot a flame up from a stove, let it hit a pot whose bottom has an infinite area, and all the flame's heat energy will be absorbed.

Perfect. Except that things don't work that way.

Make the pot too big in diameter, for a given volume, and then the pot's sides will be too low. This is awkward. Make the pot too tall and narrow, and it will have no bottom surface area to speak of.

There is a balance point in the middle somewhere. Generally, the pot's height will be somewhere vaguely around 80% to 125% of its diameter or it becomes both unwieldy and impractical.

Imusa 1L aluminum mug.

For example, take a pot 5" wide and 4" high (125% wider than it is high). This pot is exceedingly squat. Round off and you get 125 and 100mm for width and height, for a volume of about 1.3L.

Reverse the dimensions and the result is a hair over 1L in volume, with a 4" diameter, a height of 5", and a diameter-to-height ratio of 80%, and it looks more like a standard cook pot or drinking mug. For a volume of around one liter, that's about it. Max efficiency in handling, and about all you're going to get to use for thermal efficiency.

An aluminum frying pan would have a much bigger bottom area for the same volume, but how are you going to handle it? Slosh, slosh, spill if you attempt it. Try to figure out how to keep it over your stove without it tipping over. What about a windscreen?, not likely — goofy proportions. And the heat you pour into it at the bottom will jump out the top and run away about as fast as your stove can supply it.

Seems like it would be efficient but actually not. Just like the opposite, the beer can pot, with a diameter around 85mm, with 160mm for height, giving a diameter-to-height ratio of 53% — almost twice as high as it is fat. With a too-narrow pot, a lot of the stove's flame goes up the sides and escapes, which is what happens with the typical beer can pot.

Leaving pot dimensions behind, a third way to increase pot efficiency is to decrease the pot's wall thickness. No matter what the pot is made of, a lighter-weight pot absorbs heat more quickly, and the less energy any already-hot water can lose sitting there because the whole process speeds up and there is less time for that to happen. This is a plus for beer-can pots but they already have an inefficient shape and, since they are made of extremely thin materials, they are also extremely delicate, which brings us back to that other kind of efficiency issue, handling efficiency. Frying pan at one end of the scale, beer can at the other. Not only are beer cans crazy lightweight and frail but they are crazy likely to tip over. No handles either, never.

Absorbing heat better.

There is a fourth way to increase pot efficiency. That is to increase the heat-absorption rate of the pot material itself. Dark-anodized aluminum may be the best choice, because aluminum transfers heat well and a dark surface, which anodizing gives it, soaks up heat well. Titanium is also sort of darkish, though it and steel don't transfer heat nearly as well as aluminum. But on the other hand, since titanium is especially tough, titanium pot walls can be really thin, which means heat energy passes through it relatively easily. (Notice us chasing our tail?)

3. Optimize the exhaust gas flow.

Ideally, you want a bubble of hot gas surrounding the pot and hanging there to form a sort of separate universe. This bubble protects the cook pot from the outside world and allows some of the remaining heat energy in the stove's exhaust to soak into the cook pot.

Most of this process will be controlled by the windscreen, which will stifle the exhaust gas flow and slow it, and will route exhaust gases around the pot in the most efficient way.

The "Nansen cooker" was a gem in this department, but few backpackers would want to carry something so bulky and heavy, especially anyone using a tiny alcohol stove and a correspondingly small cook pot. The Nansen cooker in fact used two pots, one for heating water and one to either warm water or to melt snow — thermally efficient but not ergonomically so.

From: The Home of the Blizzard, Australian Antarctic Division

Anyhow, back to the gases.

The aspects involved are stove design, stove materials, and stove operation, the pot stand design, the pot design (size/shape) and materials, the windscreen design and materials, and the ground reflector design and materials. (The "ground reflector" is what I call any reflective and protective material under the stove, covering the ground, insulating the stove from it, and reflecting heat back upward.)

How? Try your best. The point is to hang on to hot exhaust gases without unduly impeding the stove's operation by depriving it of oxygen, and not to trap the gases so long that they cool so much that they actually suck heat back out of the cook pot.

4. Optimize the windscreen.

Windscreens are important, especially so for alcohol stoves with small flames that burn low energy-density fuel.

Screen wind like an effer. (How it looks in operation.)

The trick is to design the windscreen to isolate everything inside it from the external world while slowing heat lost through the windscreen itself. Block drafts, prevent radiant heat loss, prevent conductive heat loss to the atmosphere, funnel and direct whatever happens inside the windscreen's envelope.

A double-wall windscreen containing insulation would do part of this job, but how does a person make one? I don't know yet.

A windscreen should reflect and focus internal radiation to maximize energy flow into the pot. It should do this while minimizing energy flow into the stove, to prevent overheating it.

If there is another reflector under the stove (the "ground reflector"), covering the whole area inside the windscreen's footprint, and there should be, this needs to be optimized too. Its most important job is to protect the ground.

Using a proper windscreen, it's all too easy to set the ground on fire. Sometimes you find out that it's flammable only after it begins smoking. (True.) Protecting the ground is the ground reflector's first job. After that, it isolates the stove from conductive heat loss, reflects energy back upward toward the cook pot, and helps to maintain a hot environment around the stove.

I really like the direction that Trail Designs took with their Caldera stove systems. Clever.

But as they say in math classes, "Necessary but not sufficient". The tapered windscreen is also the pot support, which is fine. The tapered windscreen focuses the stove's output, which is good. The tapered windscreen is uninsulated, which is not. This is a major design flaw. So far, every windscreen I know of, including mine, has this flaw. What we have is extremely hot gases flowing along a piece of metal, with the entire atmosphere on the other side: an infinite heat sink. The heat should be forced to flow into the pot, not allowed to be sucked out by the atmosphere. Some kind of insulation is needed.

But these shortcomings are good in a way. They give us something to think about. Gives us something to work on — we're not done yet, so things don't have to be boring.

The Caldera Cone also leaves the top of the pot exposed. Bad. (Bad, bad, bad.) Also good, because more improvement is possible there too.

So now I have plenty to think about. I need to design and sew up a new pack. I need to re-design my stove system. And I have lots of ideas.

Could be worse.


Peyo Revolution Stove

Kelly Kettle

Mugged, so says eff, April 24, 2013.

Super Duper Ultralight Windscreen, so says eff, April 13, 2011.

Trail Designs