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Shelters, cozies, kettles, stoves, etc.


I'm not a minimalist. Thats not to say I carry a canvas tarp, a double-bit axe, and a couple cans of beans. But rather it means that I don't optimize my gear for lightest weight and sometimes I carry something that is not dual-use just because I like the luxury.

Of course I don't find thru-hiking interesting - I'd rather stop and fish. And I'm also not one of those "pack light, freeze at night" - types as I prefer some comfort.

So when you read this, bear in mind that I'm presenting stuff that I know works because I've used it.


I've used a lot of kettles and pots, the following are my favorites as I only freezer bag cook anymore.

  • Primus LiteTech - Supposedly .9 liter, but 20oz usable capacity
  • GSI HALULITE - I think it is 1.0 liter, but it gives 27oz usable capacity
Both weigh the same according to my postal scale - 6oz.
I define "usable capacity" as the maximum amount of water you can boil without spillover. Both of these kettles have rounded bottoms, which is nice because they accommodate a wide range of burner platforms. The downside is that spillover runs down and drips straight into the burner.
20oz is enough to cook one freezer bag entree and make a 12oz mug of coffee. 27oz is enough for 2 entrees, and coffee or you can share. Also the larger kettle has the room to heat those boiler meals.

GSI kettle on my alcohol stove pot stand


I've been on this earth long enough now to have played with a lot of different stoves. I'll give you my opinion on stove type and application. Remember, it is just my opinion, and I'm not some world renown adventurer.

I have a bias towards reliability. Reliability can be expressed as inversely proportional to the sum of parts. But I also consider the fuel, and user history. Don't confuse reliability with utility, i.e. an MSR WhisperLite is infinitely better at cooking a meal for a group than a SVEA 123R, but the WhisperLite has more parts to fiddle with. Alcohol stoves have the fewest parts but the fuel (ethanol/methanol) has such a high flash point (~60*F) that it is difficult to light at extremely cold temperatures. Gasoline has a flash point of -50*F making it easy to light in the cold.

Stove reliability:
  1. SVEA 123 - rugged, works in extreme cold, few moving parts, well understood.
  2. MSR liquid fuel and various inverted canister gas stoves - work well in extreme cold, rugged and well understood. But they have parts that need to be put together.
  3. Alcohol - extremely reliable as no moving parts. Simplest operation. Hardest to light in the cold.
  4. Coleman pump pressurized liquid fuel - works in extreme cold, mechanically robust.
  5. Jetboil - best of breed for a water boiler to about 20*F

Stoves that pack small and are great for day trip truck tailgate meals:
  1. Jetboil - for Cup of Noodles, french press coffee, hot chocolate - basically anything where you need hot water. The basic Jetboil is the fastest water-boiler I've ever used. I've used the Jetboil Sol Aluminum, and the basic Jetboil. The only downside is that the piezoelectric igniter is a weakspot - get a version with a replaceable igniter. The new Jetboils will work down to about 20*F. As will all propane/butane stoves, it is a good idea to carry an extra fuel canister in case one magically leaks out.
  2. El-Cheapo Century single burner propane burner ($20) - uses Coleman propane canisters. You need a pot/tea kettle with this. But a sauce pan with some water in it will heat up a can of beef stew just fine. And you can still boil water too. Not near as fast as Jetboil, but dirt cheap and flexible. The downside is that it won't work very well in the cold (below freezing) as the fixed orifice "pressure regulator" can't adjust. And sometimes those canisters leak out magically.
  3. Coleman liquid fuel single-burner stoves - will work down to -50*f below zero if you keep the pump cup lubed properly. They'll burn regular gas in a pinch although Coleman fuel (Naptha) is preferred. Pretty much bomb proof - the pump being the weak link (just don't let it dry out and use a light oil). Obviously you need some cookware. Runs a long time on a single filling, so you don't need to carry extra fuel.

Stoves for backpacking in mild weather:

  • Alcohol - I use a Trangia burner setup, but there are various ways to burn alcohol to cook stuff. Alky stoves tend to be cheap, lightweight, and dead reliable. The downsides are that there's no "off" switch (fire regulations), you can spill them if you are a doofus, and you need to be a bit more patient when boiling water.
  • Jetboil - If you have graduated to freezer bag cooking or freeze-dried meals, then you need hot water. Nothing makes hot water as fast as Jetboil. But you should carry a backup canister.
  • MSR Pocket-rocket and equivalent - there are a zillion versions of this stove. Chinese wonder stoves for $10 or MSR original for $40. You need a pot/kettle solution with this and don't bother trying to simmer/fry as all of them have a pencil-tip torch output. There are versions with a wide burner ring, but they are prone to blowing out in a breeze and require sheltering from the wind. As will all propane/butane stoves, you should carry a backup canister. Amazon, REI, etc. are where you should go to read reviews on these things.

Stoves for backpacking in cold weather:

  • MSR liquid fuel stoves - there are a bunch of them. People use them down to temperatures you shouldn't ever be out in. The down side is the pump mechanism, and you probably ought to carry some spare parts.
  • Various inverted canister stoves - even Jetboil made one. Don't need a pump. Work well in cold weather. You need to carry a backup canister.
  • SVEA 123R - bomb-proof reliability. Down-side is that it only has the power output for one person and the priming takes getting used to. Been around for 60+ years.
  • Alcohol - This is a case where reliability trumps. But they are the lowest heat output, and slow to light in extreme cold. But people use them to -20*F. Definitely not the solution for group cooking and not enough heat output for snow melting for water. But there is nothing to break.

Cooking Fish

I like to fish in the back country. I always carry my ultra-light spinning outfit with flies and lures. I'll keep one fish for lunch and my favorite is a 10 inch cutthroat trout. If I'm in an area where fires are permitted, I dig out a 12" x 5" pit maybe 3-4" deep. Build a fire out of finger diameter stuff, let it burn down to coals. Now some folks carry grills, which work great. I like to either cook right on the white ash or use some rocks for cooking support. I cook until the skin is burned good, then roll it over and cook it some more. I always carry a salt shaker. If I'm going to be in a no fire area, I carry a small teflon coated fly pan - $6 at Walmart. And I water fry the fish over my Trangia alcohol burner.

Whether you sizzle them on some small rocks in the coals, use the grill off your Coleman stove, or get yourself a backpackers grill, a 10" - 14" trout makes for some good eats on the trail.


GoLite Lair 2 Tarp

This is a silicone impregnated nylon tarp with one end closed off. The ridgeline is 96", the sides are 84", the rear is 48" wide and 24" tall. The front height and width depend on how the tarp is pitched, but typically 48" tall and 84" wide. Weighs 21oz with stakes and stuff sack. I've used this in the rain a couple times and it works pretty good. I added the side pullouts. It is big enough for two people (people in the center, gear to the sides).

This first picture is the tarp pitched in a gap between trees, on a slightly high spot. There wasn't room to pitch it taut. At the time I didn't think it a big deal as the weather had been good. Note the bug netting hanging on the front. It is held on with paper clips. It works.

This second picture is the same tarp after it was hammered (wind, rain, hail) by a surprise storm while I was away. Note the general sagging and the puddle in front. The ground cloth is a piece of Tyvek. Nothing inside the tarp got wet. I just tightened up some lines and it was good as originally pitched.

Conclusions on the Lair 2. Good tarp. Easier than a regular tarp to setup. If you guess right and put the rear into the wind then the tarp is very stable in rough weather. If you guess wrong then the tarp will flap. Pitching tight to the ground allows the use of bug netting on the front. The material and design is very strong. If the weather is really nasty I hang my opened poncho over the front pole and tie it off so that it forms a vestibule/beak - but this will cause a lot of condensation. Very little condensation when the front is open. The biggest downside is that it isn't as versatile as a plain tarp.

Hammock Setup

I'm enjoying a hammock now, for no other reason than sleeping comfort. I've used the following setup in nasty weather and it worked well. I thought I would give a little information.

Here are the basics:
  • Warbonnet Blackbird Double 1.7 hammock, straps & buckles, ~$175, ~40oz
  • Hammock Gear 3 Season Incubator full-length under-quilt. ~$240, ~18oz
  • (not shown cause it's inside the hammock) Warbonnet Black Mamba Long & Wide 3 Season Top Quilt, ~$275, ~24oz
  • Warbonnet BigMambaJamba Tarp with pullouts, ~$120, ~12oz
Total weight = 94oz(5.875lbs) with an $810 outlay. I should point out that this stuff is pretty high-end and not minimalist.

Does it work? Yes. Does it handle the wild weather? Yes. In this picture everything is setup on level ground. The previous evening it was setup on the side of a hill. Along with sleep comfort, the ability to sleep over uneven ground is nice.

The biggest hassle, (or learning curve), is getting the angle of the straps high enough so there is enough ridgeline sag. This probably doesn't make much sense to non-hammockers, but you need a little sag to make sleeping flat diagonally easier. To keep the bottom of the hammock 2 foot off ground when loaded, you need to have the straps up the tree trunk about 9 feet to get some sag in the ridgeline. I use my trekking pole to position the straps.

The biggest mindset change is that I know longer worry about what is under me. Instead, I worry about what is above me (widow makers). I sleep peacefully, dry and cozy while the heavy rains have water running beneath me. But I am very picky about the two trees I use, checking carefully for signs of falling stuff.

Cozies (at least my type of cozy)

A cozy is simply an insulating bag. Some are designed to handle a cook pot. Mine are designed for freezer bag cooking. I consider a cozy to be a cooking pan, so I'm not so concerned about the weight as I am performance.

I know there are lots of cozy designs out there, and I don't pretend for one moment to be some kind of "cozy expert". But I know that when I wanted to make a cozy, I could've leveraged a few ideas.

I've used stocking caps, grey foam,Walmart pad blue foam, 1/8" packaging bubble-wrap, Reflectix (foil-clad bubble wrap insulation) and 3mm neoprene. I like neoprene the best because of the flexibility and because Reflectix goes flat from altitude over-expansion.

I like 3M duct tape (not the alumized stuff) or sewing.

I make my backpacking cozy big enough to hold my tea kettle and pot stand when packed. That is usually enough room for two quart-size freezer bags  entrees. I'm not going to draw out detailed plans, because frankly I think most folks can build better ones than mine by just glancing at the general concept.

I sewed the neoprene on a entry-level Singer using a loose zig-zag stitch and poly thread. I found it fairy easy to sew.

Here are some Neoprene and Reflectix specs for you gram-weenies out there.

  • Reflectix - 7.5mm thick, 420milligrams for a 1.5" square chunk.
  • Neoprene - 3mm thick, 1.14grams for a 1.5" square chunk.
Now the absolute weight per unit is a somewhat misleading figure because the flexibility of the neoprene allows you to create a smaller cozy that holds more.

The performance of the two materials in my tests is the same. I don't know why. I "assumed" that the R-value of the Reflectix was greater than neoprene. My testing consists of double-bagging some boiling water and checking it after 1.5hours to see if it is still hot - hardly rigorous and thorough. Point is that I found neoprene to work just fine.

So pro's and con's of neoprene?
  • + : Flexible - easy to pack, easy to stuff things into, can be handled easily in cold weather, and you could use it for a pillow.
  • + : Insulation - works pretty good. The industry uses this stuff for cup cozies, chest waders, etc.
  • + : Construction - pretty easy to sew and also easy to glue.
  • - : Weight - 3x heavier than Reflectix
  • - : Availability - not all fabric stores carry neoprene whereas reflectix is a common building material available at all home improvement stores.

 Left to right: Small reflectix cozy (1.8oz), Large neoprene Cozy (3.25oz), my newly insulated GSI Infinity mug.

In the following pictures, the cozy on the left is designed for large meals - not backpacking. It is perfect for instant potatoes, rice, pasta, etc. for a group of people where you'd like to keep stuff warm for 2nds. The cozy on the right is what I'm using for a backpacking cozy this year. Update - I found that a separate lid sucks, so I'm back to fold-over with velcro. The trick with velcro is to sew it rather than rely on the stick-on backing.