Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dealing with Wet Wood

A friend of mine and I are planning a long backpacking trip this summer, 70 or 80 miles in 6 days.  In thinking about the logistics of taking an extended backpacking trip I began to wonder how the backcounty boiler that I reviewed in my last post might work as a stove system for the trip.  It's appealing to think that I might not have to carry any fuel for my stove.  Fuel planning is a bit of a stress because there's always some uncertainty about how fast you will go through your fuel.  I've certainly had my fair share of accidentally spilled pots of hot water which have required me to boil again -- using twice as much fuel as I had planned for that meal.  Liquid fuels can also leak or spill (although I haven't had this happen yet) leaving you with less than you might need to finish your hike.

However if you take a wood stove and plan on collecting your fuel then you must face the possibility (especially in this part of the country) of rain, perhaps for extended periods, such that the only wood you will find will be wet.  I thought about carrying esbit solid fuel as a backup.  Initial tests using esbit in the boiler were a bit unsatisfactory.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps the best use of an esbit cube would be to dry out the wet wood.  So I performed the following test to see if that strategy might work.

After having done the test I'm now wondering if I could get away with less than I cube.  Also I'm wondering if there are other alternatives to use in the boiler when the wood is wet.  Any thoughts?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Backcountry Boiler

I'm pretty excited about a new piece of gear I just received. It's called the Backcountry Boiler and it was designed by a backpacker in Pittsburgh named Devin Montgomery. His website is here. The lightweight backpacking community has been eagerly anticipating the release of the boiler. In the first run only 100 were produced and I was able to get one of those first 100. I'm looking forward to using this on upcoming hikes.

In a later post I'd like to talk about what to do when dry wood is not available.

Monday, March 7, 2011

West German Wool Army Pants

In continuing my winter gear theme I've decided to talk about pants for winter camping. Actually this is a review of a new piece of gear that I haven't really put to the test yet. I'll have to follow up some time in the future for a review of how these pants performed for me.

Back in January our local boy scout council held it's annual Klondike derby. For those who don't know what this is it's like a sled dog race where the boys are the dogs. They build sleds and pull them around a course, stopping at various stations where they must complete scouting skill-related activities. I volunteered to help at the Map&Compass station that our church congregation was in charge of. The day of the derby turned out to be one of the coldest days of the year. It was about 0F when we arrived in the morning. I was wearing two pair of long underwear under my nylon hiking pants (that I wear in all seasons). My upper body was fine because I had on many layers and a down parka. But my legs were a little cold. I mentioned it to one of my buddies who was there (who is a real outdoor expert)and he pointed out his wool pants.

Wool is great stuff as I've mentioned before. It's water and odor resistant, and has great wicking and insulating properties. Furthermore in a dense weave, such as you would have in a wool pant it is windproof. I love my merino wool tops and I've consider merino for a base layer on bottom but I had never thought about wool pants. So I set about looking for some.

The classic outdoor wool pants used to be the Malone pant made by Woolrich which is located not too far from me. However they seem not to make them any more. Or at least I couldn't find them on their website. I've found various places online where you can buy them and the going price seems to be about $90. A bit steep for a pair of pants I wasn't sure I would like.

Then I found a review of some West German wool army pants by a backpacker named pig-monkey. I hopped on eBay and soon found a pair just like he had talked about, and miraculously they were in my size. I got them for $16.

These pants are very cool. Military pants seem to be very well made. The waistband is adjustable with buttons inside and out. There are bar tacks on all the pocket seams and inside there are cloth panels over every seam as well as the crotch, waistband, and ankles.

The fly is button-up and there are lots of pockets. The knee area (from mid-thigh to mid-calf) has a double layer of wool (you can see the upper seam of the second layer in the photo to the right).

I tend to use the "cargo" aspect of my hiking pants a lot so I really like all the pockets. Each one has a button closure.

The flap on the cargo pocket is tacked down on the front so that the flap stays down even if it is unbuttoned.

Outside the cargo pocket,but still under the flap, is an extra little pocket that is just right for a small knife, or keys, or coins.

In the main compartment of the cargo pocket there are long ties to which you can tie small pieces of gear. The ties are long enough so that you can use the gear (say a knife, small flashlight, or compass) but it makes it impossible to lose by dropping. Very cool idea.

There are snaps around the ankles also so you can snap them tight to your ankles before you put your boots on. When snapped the pants can't ride up on your leg and get over the top of your boots to let snow it.

This works great with my NEOS.  I had a chance to try it this morning because strangely the biggest snow of the year just arrived last night.  I went out shoveling wearing these pants and was impressed with how well this feature works.  In the past that has always been my problem when in deep snow.

The one thing that concerned me about these pants was that the reinforced knees seemed very stiff and made a crinkly sound when I walked.  The knee area has a double layer of wool but there seemed to be some kind of papery material between the layers of wool.  I opened up the bottom seam and found the culprit.  

I imagine these pants were made back in the 60s or 70s.  This reinforcing material seems to be coated with something that has stiffened up and cracked over the years.  There was a fair amount of yellow dust on and around it.

Removing it turned out to be easier than I thought it would be.  The old reinforcing material rips easily and soon came out.  I had to open one more seam to get to the part behind the cargo pocket.  Here you can see the offending material after removal.

The entire procedure took only five minutes and the resulting product is quieter and more comfortable.  

Pig-monkey recommends lanolizing your wool outer clothing. That will increase the water-resistance of the pants.

Although I think these are very cool pants I'm still not sure how I will like them for backpacking. They are rugged, water-resistant, and warm but they are heavy. I may decide that I would prefer a rain pant over a fleece layer on bottom. Rain pants have their own downsides. They tend not to be as utilitarian in terms of pockets and such and the danger of condensation is high compared to wool.

I'll have to do some more experimenting.

Postscript: Shortly after this post I went outside wearing the pants to make snowmen with my kids. I purposely spent a lot of time on my knees in the snow to see how well the wool repels water. I was really impressed. At the end of the process I stood up and dusted off the snow and the pants were dry and my legs were warm. Pretty cool.