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White Sauce – A Versatile Base for Backpacking Meals

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food-2

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Making sauces for Backpacking Meals might seem intimidating, but with a grasp of a few simple principles, you can make a basic white sauce and flavor it in a multitude of ways for gourmet cooking while on the trail. Cooking up a homemade mac and cheese on day five will make you a hero with any group!

The essence of a good sauce is a flavourful liquid and a thickener. To make my trail preparation easier, I typically combine as many ingredients together as I can at home, breaking up the recipe into manageable stages. I number the bags, hydrate in each bag during preparation and put the instructions in the outer bag.

White sauce can be combined with any pasta (or rice), flavor and protein, cheese or vegetarian ingredients you want. Essentially it is a creamy delivery system which, once mastered, can be used for surprisingly good meals with great ease. You can scale up the liquid portion if the oil/flour ratio is also scaled up.  Typically, one cup of liquid can be thickened to a medium white sauce with two tablespoons each of oil and flour.

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Farfalle Carbonara with Clams

3 – 4 oz. dried farfalle (bowties)

1 tbsp. Grapeseed oil (high burn temperature and perfect for camp stoves!)

1 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. flour

Bag 1 – 1 tbsp. Dehydrated onion flakes / 1 tsp. Freeze dried garlic (Litehouse brand is good)

Bag 2 – 1/3 cup milk powder / 1-2 tsp dried chicken or vegetable stock / 1 tsp. dried parsley / ½ tsp dried tarragon / salt / pepper. Medium size bag.

Bag 3 – 8 oz. can clams (dehydrated) / 1 tbsp. bacon bits / 1 tbsp. dehydrated roasted red peppers thinly sliced

Grated parmesan cheese to taste

Add water to Bag 1 and Bag 3 to cover and wait till fully hydrated. Cook farfalle while waiting. When cooked drain and transfer to the large zip lock the whole meal was in. Pour excess water (now flavored!) out of Bag 1 and 3 into Bag 2 and bring it up to measure one cup.

Place oil and butter in a saucepan and briefly cook onion and garlic (Bag 1). This opens up the flavors that dehydrating often traps. Using a combination of oil and butter helps prevent the butter from burning. Lower the temperature a little and put in the flour.  This is your thickener and needs to be cooked a minute or so to eliminate the floury taste. Watch that it doesn’t brown. Take off the heat and gradually add milk/stock (Bag 2), stirring to prevent lumps. Return to heat and add clams, bacon, and peppers (Bag 3). Bring to a light boil until thickened. Be careful not to burn the milk. Add drained cooked farfalle and grated parmesan to the sauce. Stir and enjoy.

Makes one large serving

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Ultra-Light Backcountry Fish Soup Recipe

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Fish3
Backcountry Fish Soup Recipe
Never hurts to have a good view when cooking

Tired of freeze dried meals while on the trail? Do you enjoy fishing while backpacking, but don’t know how to prepare a tasty dish without your home kitchen? Try my ultra-lightweight Backcountry Fish Soup Recipe! Perfect for when fires are prohibited or on cold nights while camping on the coast.

As a trained chef, it’s hard to leave behind all my spices, pans and gadgetry— but who wants to lug the kitchen sink up a mountain? When you’re trying to shave every ounce off your pack it’s important to make what you bring count. Here’s what I bring backpacking and what you’ll need to replicate my Backcountry Fish Soup Recipe.

 

 

Backcountry Fish Soup Recipe

What you’ll need:

  •   Stove
  •   Cooking vessel (I’m using a 600ml Ti Mug)
  •   A sharp knife
  •   Eating utensil
  •   Salt
  •   Pepper
  •   Garlic powder
  •   Onion powder
  •   Hot sauce/Sriracha
  •   Veggies (can be dehydrated— I usually pair a root veggie with a spring veggie)
  •   ‘Magic Rub’
  •   And, of course, a fish

 

Backcountry Fish Soup Recipe

Recipe for “Magic Rub” (makes 1 ounce – prepare at home):

  • 1 tsp Garlic powder
  • 1 tsp Onion powder
  • 1 tsp Red chili powder
  • 1 tsp Green chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
  • 1/8 tsp Cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Sea salt
  • 1 tsp Ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp Herb de Provence

Before you start, if you are using freeze-dried or dehydrated vegetables, you’ll want to reconstitute them ahead of time in some warm water. Next you will need to scale, gut and fillet your fish. Once filleted, cut your fish into spoon sized pieces. Here’s a pro-tip: leave the skin on the fish and save a portion of the fish bones or head. Put your fish bones, fish and vegetables into your pot and fill 3/4 of the way full with water. Next drizzle in some of your hot sauce/Sriracha, sprinkle in a tsp of magic rub, give it a good stir and turn up the heat.

Once your fish turns from translucent to opaque, taste your broth. Add more magic rub and hot sauce if desired. Use the salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder to augment in order to suit your palate. Once your fish is opaque all the way through it’s time to kick your feet up and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Bon Appetite!

Backcountry Fish Soup Recipe

Get Geared-Up Vegan Style

in Community/Food by
Top each wrap with half of the sliced avocado then roll them up and enjoy!

As a vegan backpacker I’ve learned that proper plant-based nutrition sustains energy levels and performance during long hikes, fueling you to tackle switchbacks and peak-bagging all day long! Once you get it down, plant-based nutrition is easy to plan and pack.

First, I would like to share a handful of important tidbits around vegan trail-nutrition, related to protein+fat+carb needs, energy level sustainability, and preventing muscle cramps and stiffness.  With a heavy pack and a full day ahead, the most important thing to focus on while planning is getting all the calories needed for long hikes.

Active vegans need to increase the fat and protein in their diet while eating complex carbs.  Protein will complement the carbohydrate, allowing it to enter the bloodstream at a steady rate, thus delaying the onset of hunger and sustaining energy levels. Much of the real energy for backpacking comes from carbs and fat. Fat is the longer-lasting energy source and is needed most during endurance activities. Fat also supports brain health, helps maintain body warmth, keeps the joints lubricated, aids in recovery and minimizes the inflammatory processes. Vegan backpackers should pay close attention to getting enough protein, fat and carbs. TIP: pack healthy fats!

Quality fat examples:

  • Olive oil (.4 oz packets are available)
  • Chia seed
  • Flaxseed
  • Sesame seed
  • Hemp seed
  • Nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans)
  • Avocados – fun to eat with a spoon!

Quality protein examples:

  • Hemp seed nut
  • Beans (kidney, black, garbanzo, soy)
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains

Energy level is vital in keeping you trekking strong, so it’s important you don’t forget iron! Active vegans need to pay close attention to iron. After hiking for hours you want your iron levels to stay healthy. Strenuous exercise, constant foot striking on the trail and sweating all result in iron loss. TIP: Plant-based iron-rich foods need to be consumed with vitamin C to help with absorption.

Examples of easy-to-pack vegan iron-rich foods:

  • Soybean nuts
  • Dried peas and beans
  • Raisins
  • Peanut butter
  • Nuts (walnuts, cashews, pecans, almonds)

Everyone wants to prevent muscle cramping and stiffness when backpacking.  It’s easy! Keep your sodium and calcium levels up! TIP: Bring your sea salt.

Examples of easy-to-pack vegan calcium rich foods:

  • Almonds
  • Beans
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds

Introducing the “Cheesy” Hotchpotch Wrap from my BeVegan recipe collection. It’s the end of the day and after hours of ascending and descending, you put on your comfy camp shoes and nothing satisfies better than this tasty, nutrition-dense meal packed full of vitamins and minerals. This compact surge will re-energize your body, re-fuel your muscles and even provide you a deep sleep to prepare you for next day’s adventure.   It’s the gear head of all crowd pleaser meals.

The beauty of this nutrient-rich meal is that it’s enjoyed uncooked on the trail or enjoyed cooked in your kitchen. You are probably wondering where the “cheesy” comes from? Have you ever tried hippie dust? (Formal name: nutritional yeast.) It has a lovely, nutty-cheese-like flavor. Hippie dust is rich in B-vitamins (helps convert our food into fuel), iron and is also a complete protein source, including all the essential amino acids that drive us along the trail.

This recipe came to me one day as I was on my morning run.  I have created many vegan one-pot wonders and this one in particular is a power meal in a wrap. It will keep you moving forward with sustained energy.

 “Cheesy” Hotchpotch Wrap

Directions:

Vegan
Prepare avocado slices from a fresh, whole avocado then set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine the black beans, brown rice, and two tablespoons of olive oil. Mix well.
In a separate bowl, combine the black beans, brown rice, and two tablespoons of olive oil. Mix well.
Next, toss in the almonds, chia seeds, ground flax seed and seasoning. Mix. Add in hippie dust (aka nutritional yeast).
Next, toss in the almonds, chia seeds, ground flax seed and seasoning. Mix. Add in hippie dust (aka nutritional yeast). Continue to mix so everything is distributed evenly.
Set tortillas out and spread the tomato paste tube on outside edges of each wrap (this will help with holding the wrap together). Tomato paste has some vitamin C so it will help with iron absorption.
Set tortillas out and spread the tomato paste tube on outside edges of each wrap (this will help with holding the wrap together). Tomato paste has some vitamin C so it will help with iron absorption.
Fill each tortilla with half of the hotchpotch.
Fill each tortilla with half of the hotchpotch.
Top each wrap with half of the sliced avocado then roll them up and enjoy!
Top each wrap with half of the sliced avocado then roll them up and enjoy!

Notes: My choices are indicated below next to each ingredient. You can purchase and pack the ingredients however it makes the most sense to you.  I have found backpacker-friendly packaging for all ingredients in Trader Joes, Whole Foods, PCC and QFC.

Ingredients:

1 avocado

1 box of black beans (Whole Foods, Target and QFC)

1 package fully cooked brown rice (Trader Joe’s has a great one)

½ cup slivered almonds

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed

2 tablespoons chia seed (bulk or packaged)

4 tablespoons nutritional yeast (Braggs is a great brand for vegans with added B vitamins)

2 brown rice tortillas (or whole wheat if you are not gluten intolerant)

2 tablespoons olive oil (individual packets available)

1 tube tomato paste (Whole Foods and QFC)

Sea salt, everyday seasoning, cumin (season to taste)

Serves 2

Vegan Gear 13

 

Vegetarian and Vegan Hiking Food that Packs a Punch

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Vegetarian 1

Packing for a hiking trip is all about trade-offs. And when you are a vegetarian or vegan, packing for the trail can add another challenge as you try to pack enough of the right kinds of food to fuel your adventures.  Not enough of the right kind of energy can leave you fatigued and listless or even lead to bonking (running out of the stored glycogen). Fueling a long hike is all about finding the energy you require in a form you will eat. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are all needed in the right proportions to keep you moving on the trail with a smile.

Breakfast

Vegetarian 2Instant oatmeal can provide a lightweight powerhouse meal to start the day off right. Prepackaged oatmeal works in a pinch, but has too much sugar for me. I make my own individually packed meals using instant oatmeal, powdered milk, nuts, dried fruit, and a pinch of brown sugar. A cup of oatmeal can have close to 60 grams of carbs, while powdered milk is fortified with vitamins and protein. Nuts and dried fruit add more nutrients and give many taste options. The ingredients can all be placed in one Ziploc and heated with warm water in just a few minutes. Lightweight, packed with energy, and quick to prepare, this meal will get you on the trail early and keep you moving.

Lunch

The book Freedom of the Hills will tell you that lunch starts shortly after breakfast and makes up most of the calories consumed in a day. The idea is to maintain a steady intake of energy to replace what is getting burned. Lunch is not usually a sit-down cooked meal on a hike. Rather, pack your favorite sports nutrition bars or nuts and dried fruit in convenient pockets and munch along the trail or on short breaks. Many of the popular bars like Clif or PowerBars have a good mix of carbohydrates, protein, fat and other nutrients to refuel lost glycogen supplies. If you are working hard you will need one bar an hour with plenty of water. Supplement with your favorite GORP and fresh fruit to add variety.

Dinner

Vegetarian 1

A good evening meal is important to replace nutrients lost during a hard day of hiking and to keep you strong and happy over a long trip. It is important to start replacing lost carbohydrates and protein within an hour of stopping for the day. Many companies offer prepackaged vegetarian and vegan meals for the trail; Pack Lite Foods will even mail one to you along the trail. It is important to read the nutrition label though to make sure you are getting the right caloric mix of carbs, protein, and fat. Another option is to pre-make your meals at home in a single-serve Ziploc. Pasta, dried beans, and rice can be packaged easily and spiced to individual tastes. Diced fresh peppers, onions, carrots, and celery add zest and nutrients to a dinner meal (be sure to store fresh vegetables in a separate container).

Pro’s Pick

Washington-based professional endurance athlete and trainer Brandyn Roark recommends Hammer Bar from Hammer Nutrition. She says it is organic, 100% raw, vegan, gluten free, and tastes wonderful. “They rock in changing climates too. I’ve used them in the humid tropics, to the Arctic Circle.” Her favorite is the cashew coconut chocolate chip. See more at her website gobranbran.com

Power Boosters

Add quinoa to boost protein. Keen One Quinoa has many meal choices at keenonefoods.com

Chia Seeds can be added to oatmeal or dinner meals to supplement protein and other nutrients lost during exercise. Chia Seeds are considered an endurance athlete’s super food. Just one tablespoon contains 1 gram of carbs and 3 grams of protein along with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper.

Amaranth is another good natural source of carbs, protein, amino acids, and other great stuff. Instant amaranth can be cooked like instant oatmeal in the morning and has a mild, sweet and nutty flavor.

More Resources – Find More Information on Vegetarian/Vegan Backpacking and Recipes

backpackingvegan.wordpress.com
dirtygourmet.com
packlitefoods.com
rei.com
ripeorganics.com.au

Icka Brunch Recipe

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Ika Brunch

For me, mornings on trail are by far the hardest part of the day. Forget big mileage, blisters, or bugs— climbing out of a toasty warm sleeping bag? Not easy. Luckily, I have a backpacking breakfast recipe that will make you want to get out of bed and will restore some of that belly warmth from the inside out, too.

Behold… Icka Brunch

Ika Brunch

Where the name Icka Brunch comes from originally, I couldn’t tell you. The name and recipe come to me from a YMCA camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin where I led canoeing trips. And let me tell you, no trail recipe is more reliably vetted than one by a group of picky thirteen-year-olds. This cheesy-hashbrown skillet dish is well tested and always makes that painful trek out of your sleeping bag totally worth it.

Directions:

Breakfast 4Butter your fry pan generously (you’re hiking, it’s okay to be generous) on both the bottom and sides of the pan, and set it on your camp stove or fire to heat up. Next, add the dehydrated hashbrowns to the pan and spread them evenly across the bottom (I use Hungry Jack Original Hashbrowns).

Let the dehydrated hashbrowns toast up in the pan a bit before you hydrate them. Toasting the hashbrowns before you add water allows for a crispier texture in the final product. After the hashbrowns have begun to brown slightly, add in the water little by little, mixing after each time you pour. Pour and mix the water into the dehydrated hashbrowns until they have reached your desired texture (go ahead and grab one out of the pan and give it a taste to see if you’re happy with it).

Next, using a spatula, push the hasbrowns to the sides of the pan, creating an open circle in the middle of your skillet. Add a pat of butter to the exposed area and crack your eggs into it one at a time (I usually use 1-2 eggs per person).* Scramble the eggs using your spatula and allow them to start cooking in the middle of the pan. After about a minute, combine the eggs with the hashbrowns to continue cooking.

Breakfast 2While the head chef is completing these steps, have a sous chef dice up some yellow onion and garlic and cube some cheddar cheese and summer sausage. Add the onions to the pan and mix them into the hashbrowns and eggs.

Next, push the mixture to the sides of the pan and create an open space in the middle the same way you did for the eggs. Add your summer sausage to the middle of the pan to fry up slightly before combining it with the rest of the mixture. Go ahead and add the garlic and cheese and cook until the cheese is melted and the rest of the mixture is cooked to your desired crispiness. Serve it up and add salt, pepper, garlic salt, and hot sauce as you like!

Icka Brunch Ingredients:

  • 1 small carton of Hungry Jack Original Hashbrown Potatoes
  • ½-1 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ large yellow onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3-4 ounces medium cheddar cheese
  • ¼-½ summer sausage
  • ¼ stick butter
  • Hot sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic salt, cayenne, red pepper flakes… (Spices are the key to backcountry cooking— go big or hike home)

Serves 2 | Cook Time: 15 min

Breakfast 1

*For shorter trips, I pack real eggs in a plastic egg holder made by Coghlan’s (http://www.rei.com/product/696008/coghlans-6-egg-holder) or pack the eggs in a tin can separated by layers of pine needles and duck-tapped over the top. For longer trips, powdered eggs work just fine.

Trail Food: Chicken Curry and Couscous

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Here’s a trail food recipe that should bring some spice back into your back country cooking. Curry powder imparts a nice yellow color to this meal in addition to its distinctive flavor, while red and yellow bell peppers and carrots add to the eye appeal.

Trail Food Recipe- Chicken Curry and Couscous

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Curry Chicken and Rice

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

⅔ cup Couscous

1 – 7-ounce pouch Chicken

1 large Red Bell Pepper or ½ each of a red and yellow Bell Pepper, approximately 1 cup diced

1 large Carrot, thinly sliced, approximately ½ cup

1 small Apple, peeled and diced, approximately ½ cup

3 Tbsp Powdered Milk, (NIDO® brand whole milk powder works well)

2 tsp Curry Powder

½ tsp Chili Powder

¼ tsp Salt

2 Cups Water

At Home:

  1. Pre-cut and pack vegetables in a snack size Ziploc® bag, separate from other ingredients. (For camping, you could pack the vegetables whole and cut them up in camp, but pack the apple whole.)
  2. Combine curry, chili, and milk powders with salt in a snack size Ziploc® bag.
  3. Keep chicken in original pouch.

On the Trail:

  1. Combine vegetables with water in pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Add chicken, including juices, apples, powdered milk and seasonings. Stir and return to boil.
  3. Add couscous, stir, and extinguish stove. Let meal sit for ten minutes with lid on pot.

Quick Tips:

  • Boil the vegetables for less than a minute. They finish cooking while the pot sits off the stove.
  • Couscous absorbs water rapidly and may scorch to the bottom of the pot if you try to “cook” it with the stove on. Add the couscous to the boiling water last and extinguish the stove.

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Additional Comments:

I cooked this meal in a 1.3 liter Evernew™ ECA 418 Titanium pot with fry pan lid. The fry pan lid served as Dominique’s plate and I ate out of the pot.

If you prefer cooking and eating out of a freezer bag, boiling only the vegetables in the pot will leave the pot relatively clean. Add the boiled water and vegetables to the other ingredients in the freezer bag, stir, and wait ten minutes. Insulate the freezer bag with a fleece garment or custom made cozy bag.

Dominique and I compromise on salt and heat. She thought the recipe could use more salt, and we added a few shakes to the meal after it was cooked. We made the recipe with 1 tsp of chili powder the first time and only ½ tsp of chili powder the second time. I liked the full tsp, but she preferred the ½ tsp. We’ll split the difference next time.

Since this recipe uses fresh ingredients, it is ideally suited for trips where it will be eaten within a day or two. If you need to preserve food for a longer haul or when you want to reduce weight and volume, use ½ cup dehydrated canned chicken, ½ cup dried vegetables and ¼ cup dried apples. Increase water by ½ cup. Soak the dried ingredients for five minutes before you light the stove.

Visit BackpackingChef.com to see a Curry Chicken and Rice recipe which uses dried ingredients or get curried away with Erika Klimecky’s Curried Salmon Salad Sandwich recipe.

Metal Cup – One of the Essentials

in Skills by

By Cameron Ownbey

It is often challenging for new backpackers to decide which gear in that giant pile is important to take, and which to leave behind. I remember the early days of  “packing for a trip” were very exciting, fun and enlightening but also confusing. That being said, there are only a few items that are almost impossible to improvise in the wilderness.  A knife and cooking container would likely be the most difficult. My cooking container of choice is a metal mug.
I prefer a titanium mug. I choose titanium because it is very durable, light and withstands high temperatures. If you select it carefully, it will be shaped so that a 32oz water bottle fits inside it.  That way the two items nest perfectly and the cup doesn’t take up much room in your pack.  It’s also great on most types of fire, so  you can use it to heat water or cook in.
If you’re like me, you enjoy any item that does double duty.  My cup is great for collecting snow, digging holes, and is the perfect item for melting snow or purifying water over a wood fire, in a pinch. Make sure the metal cup you choose is not plastic or Teflon-coated, as that will melt off when cooking over a flame and make your food or beverage taste nasty.  I consider my titanium mug a perfect complement to my water bottle setup. Both of them accompany me on all my overnight trips as my essential items.
Happy Hiking!

The New MSR MicroRocket

in Gear by

Attention PocketRocket owners! Time to put that old stove out to pasture and upgrade to the new MicroRocket… Well, maybe not quite, but MSR has just released the new MicroRocket, and it’s a pretty sweet little stove.

The new MSR MicroRocket
The new MSR MicroRocket

 

Did I mention little?  That’s the big news here.  Yeah, it’s lighter, but the big deal is that it’s compact, really compact.

The new MicroRocket is far more compact than the old PocketRocket
The new MicroRocket is far more compact than the old PocketRocket

 

How compact?  Well, say you had a little 550 ml mug type pot.  With the PocketRocket, there’s no way you can even fit the stove into the pot.

The PocketRocket just won't fit into a small mug type pot.
The PocketRocket just won’t fit into a small mug type pot.

 

But the MicroRocket?  Not only will it fit, it will lay down flat inside.

The new MicroRocket will lie down flat in a small mug type pot.
The new MicroRocket will lie down flat in a small mug type pot.

 

Depending on what brand of pot you have, you can even fit a 110 gram canister in on top of the stove – and that’s in a mug that the PocketRocket won’t fit into at all.

A MicroRocket and a canister of gas in a small mug type pot
A MicroRocket and a canister of gas in a small mug type pot

Guys, that’s compact.  Nice!

 

The new MicroRocket does come with a case, just like the old PocketRocket

The cases of a MicroRocket and a PocketRocket
Personally, I leave the case at home. For me, storing the stove in my cook pot is plenty of protection. The case just adds weight and bulk, so I use the case for storage at home but use my pot out on the trail. Each to his or her own.

 

Now, just look at that thing.  It’s got “quality” written all over it.

The MSR MicroRocket
The MSR MicroRocket

 

What’s one of the complaints about the old PocketRocket?  Well, the pot supports are a little bendy, a little thin.  Not so with the new MicroRocket.  Can you say “beefy?”

The new, beefier pot supports of the MicroRocket
The new, beefier pot supports of the MicroRocket

Those pot supports aren’t going anywhere. They’re solid.

 

Also included with the MicroRocket is this new, separate piezoelectric ignition.

The separate piezoelectric ignition of the MSR MicroRocket
The separate piezoelectric ignition of the MSR MicroRocket

Now, I’ve got to admit that my first reaction was not positive.  I mean, what the heck, MSR?  The convenience of piezo is that I don’t have to have a lighter.  I mean piezo just means I press a button, and I’m cooking; no fishing in my pack for a lighter.  If I have to “go fish,” what’s the point?

 

But there is just one problem.  Attached piezo lighters are in the flame.  All the time.  What do most piezo lighters do after a while?  Nothing.  Most piezo lighters fail after some period of time.  So MSR took it out of the flame.  Time will tell, but this might just be the piezo that works.  And unlike a butane lighter, MSR’s separate piezo ligher will never run out of fuel.

 

And there’s not much penalty for carrying it.  The weight?  13 grams – less than half an ounce.  And it packs really small.  Remember that little mug type pot I showed you earlier?  It’ll fit down in the bottom of the pot right beside the folded up stove.  It basically takes up no room at all.

The piezoelectric ignition packs very well
The piezoelectric ignition packs very well

And it works really well.  I’ve tried the piezo lighter on other stoves including white gas, canister gas, and alcohol.  They all light right up.  I also took the stove up to the top of an 8000ft/2400m peak, and the ignition worked just fine.

 

How about power?  Well, it did great in my snow melting tests.

Melting snow on a MicroRocket
Melting snow with a MicroRocket

 

How about pot stability?  Much improved over the PocketRocket, and it compares very well with other stoves. I rate the MicroRocket’s pot stability as “very good” for its class of stove.

Stoves used for pot stability testing
Stoves used for pot stability testing

 

How about flame control?  The MicroRocket has great flame control.  I was able to cook a nice omelet using the stove.  The MicroRocket is a small stove, and it does have a very concentrated flame.  In order to do real cooking, you’re going to have to bring real cookware.  That concentrated flame will overheat the center of whatever you’re cooking if you go with a thin, lightweight pan.

Cooking an omelet with the MSR MicroRocket
Cooking an omelet with the MSR MicroRocket

 

In summary, it’s lighter weight and very packable; nice functional piezoelectric ignition; excellent build quality, beefed up pot supports, and very good pot stability; plenty of power for melting snow, but you can turn it down and cook an omelet.  I am impressed – this is a good stove.  Nice job, MSR.

The MSR MicroRocket: Highly recommended.

HJ

Want more info and more photos?  In the process of writing this article, I compiled several posts that are on my blog.  You’ll see how I tested the stove, how it performs out on the trail, and what my thought process was as I reviewed the stove. The below links will have additional links, so there’s plenty of information if you want it.

A *Practical* Ultralight Alcohol Stove System

in Gear by

Alcohol stoves seem to be the darling of anyone trying to “lighten up” in terms of their pack weight.  Just one problem:   There are so many alcohol stoves out there, how can anyone make sense of them all?

Some stoves are fussy and hard to work with. Others are unstable, more likely to spill than to cook your dinner.  Still others take forever and the slightest breath of wind robs them of all their heat.  While I want to lighten up as much as the next guy, I want a stove that works. There are some good stoves out there, and I’ve “done the math” to pick one out, which is presented below.

But before I go on, let me say that alcohol stoves aren’t for everybody. Most alcohol stoves do only one thing well: boil water. If you’re a gourmet cook, you may as well skip this article. But if you’re seriously trying to lighten your pack, my pick for an alcohol stove is worth a read. With a lightweight stove setup like this one, I’m able to get a typical fair weather weekend load down to under twenty-five pounds including food and one liter of water. That’s without cutting any comforts. If I want to start really scrimping, I can go even lower.

ultralight alcohol stove_1
Some of my typical gear (L to R): Sleeping bag, 19oz; sleeping mat, 13 oz; Nalgene 1 liter bottle, 4oz; my entire kitchen (except food), 16oz; shelter (not including stakes), 11oz.

 

I’ve already listed some of the problems commonly associated with (some) alcohol stoves.  They can be fussy and hard to work with, unstable and excessively slow, particularly in wind.  We need a stove that is simple, stable, reasonably fast (by alcohol standards) and works well in wind.  And of course we want it to be efficient. I have just such a stove in mind:  The Caldera Cone ultralight alcohol stove system.
ultralight alcohol stove_2

What do I mean by “system?”  I mean a complete setup:  burner,  pot stand, and wind screen.  Let’s take a look at my setup:
ultralight alcohol stove_3
Note: You can buy a kits with pot, fuel bottle, burner, and windscreen, etc, or you can buy just the burner and windscreen and customize your setup from there. My setup is a customization but is fairly representative of a typical setup.

Now that may look like a lot, but don’t be intimidated. That’s my entire kitchen: stove, pot, bowl, utensil, lighter and fuel. Best of all, it all nests together in a stuff sack like a nice, compact package. Just ignore the mud spatters from last night’s rain.
ultralight alcohol stove_4

So, what all is in this package? Let’s open it up and see. First, I’m using an MSR Titan kettle (generally sold separately from the stove). Nested in the Titan kettle is a plain old Ziploc container like you can get at any grocery store.
ultralight alcohol stove_5

I’ve wrapped the Ziploc container in a “cozy” (to retain heat) made out of Reflectix material.
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Nested inside are all of the components (burner, windscreen, fuel, spoon, lighter, and fuel measuring cup). I’ve already pulled the burner out in this photo.
ultralight alcohol stove_7

The burner is a “Pepsi can” style stove, called the “10-12 stove.” It is very well made (unlike most home made ones I’ve seen), and it’s optimized to work with the special windscreen.
ultralight alcohol stove_8

Now, we come to the real genius of this set up: the windscreen.
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The windscreen dovetails to itself such that it becomes a very solid, stable cylindrical windscreen and pot support.
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Your pot then slides into the “sleeve” formed by the windscreen. Note how the windscreen buts up right under the rim of the pot.
ultralight alcohol stove_11
Note that this tight fit is custom by pot. In other words, you have to buy the specific version of the Caldera Cone windscreen for your pot. A Caldera Cone windscreen for an MSR Titan kettle will only fit an MSR Titan kettle. This custom fit works great, but it does limit you to one pot. I don’t find this limitation overly restrictive.

When fully assembled, it looks like this:
ultralight alcohol stove_12
The burner is inside the windscreen, centered on the pot.

By combining the pot support and the windscreen into one, a substantial amount of weight has been saved. Add to that the fact that the windscreen is of a highly effective design, and you’ve got yourself one lightweight, wind-effective stove. This stove is stable, efficient and performs well even in gusty, strong winds.

Here’s the stove in use:
ultralight alcohol stove_13

I’m boiling water on the stove. The Ziploc container stands ready nearby. My food is already inside the container. When the water boils, I’ll pour the requisite amount into the Ziploc container, screw on the lid, and let everything steep. In a few minutes, I’ll be chowing down, having a cup of hot tea, or what have you. Enjoy! I do!
ultralight alcohol stove_14

Well, there you have it, my pick for an alcohol stove, a complete system, the Caldera Cone. As always, you should consider your particular circumstances and your particular style before you invest in this or any stove system. But for my money, the Caldera Cone ultralight stove system is a dang good one.

One final word: What type of alcohol works best for alcohol stoves? Not all alcohols are suitable for use as stove fuel. For that subject, I refer you to a post on my blog: Alcohol as Stove Fuel

HJ

Gear Review: The New MSR Whisperlite Universal

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Yep, you read that right, MSR is coming out with a new version of their MSR Whisperlite stove (target: January 2012).

The new MSR Whisperlite Universal

Wait a minute. Isn’t the Whisperlite already the most successful liquid fueled stove in modern history? And doesn’t MSR have not one but two versions already? Has MSR lost their collective mind? No, not really: There is something new under the sun, something very much worth having: the MSR Whisperlite Universal.

What’s New?
Other than the obvious (the legs aren’t wire anymore), what’s new? A lot. First, this is the first offering from MSR that will burn not only liquid fuel but also gas.

You heard me right. You can unscrew that canister off your Pocket Rocket and screw it onto your Whisperlite. Now, if that doesn’t open up a whole realm of possibilities, I don’t know what does. Now, for quick Alpine starts, you can fire up on gas and be done with breakfast and on your way ASAP. The stove is also equipped with a swivel at the connector so that the gas canister can be inverted (turned upside down) for cold weather operation. See my article Stoves For Cold Weather II for more on inverted canister gas stoves. What this means is that you have a true, all weather, four season stove:

  • Upright (“regular”) canister mode for fair weather (above 50F/10C).
  • Inverted (upside down) canister mode for “moderate” cold weather (50F/10C down to about 0F/-18C).
  • Liquid fuel (gasoline or kerosene) mode for severe cold weather (below 0F/-18C).

All that in one stove. Nice! And not only can it burn gas, it does it well.

So how do they do it? Well, just like on the existing Whisperlite Internationale, you change the jet. There’s a jet for each class of fuel.

The jets of the MSR Whisperlite Universal: UC (canister gas), UG (white or unleaded gasoline), and UK (kerosene).

You also have to change the adapter at the end of the fuel line.

The liquid fuel adapter (top) and the canister gas attachment (bottom) of the Whisperlite Universal.

so what else is new? Significantly improved flame control, that’s what.

The Whisperlite Universal running at MAXIMUM POWER.

Let’s take a closer look at the burner.

In this photo, I’ve just started firing up the burner. Notice how the only spot that glows red on the rim of the burner is underneath the generator (pre-heat loop). They’ve re-designed the generator so that it traps heat. What this means is that you can continue to vaporize fuel even at relatively low flame levels. What is the problem with the current models of the Whisperlite? The flame sputters and dies when you try to turn it down low. With the new Whisperlite Universal, you can get a really nice low flame, not only on gas which you would expect.


The MSR Whisperlite Universal simmering on gas. Now that is a low flame, it’s barely there. Talk about flame control.

But you can also get a good simmer on kerosene, which is a tough fuel to simmer on.
Simmer test on kerosene. Nice, stable low blue flames
Simmer test on kerosene. Nice, stable low blue flames.

The Whisperlite Universal simmers equally well or better on white gasoline as it does on kerosene. Simmering on liquid fuel isn’t automatic on the Whisperlite Universal. Don’t expect it to be as easy as on something like a MSR Dragonfly. You still have to employ tricks like using very low pressure and having the fuel bottle half empty to get a good simmer, but this is the best simmering stove of its type from MSR in the last couple of decades. They’ve really improved the flame control on liquid fuel.

What else is new? The legs for one. Gone are the wire legs.

The new MSR Whisperlite Universal (left) and the current MSR Whisperlite Internationale (right).

Now they’re stamped metal legs. Two good things about this: one, the old legs were tough to get back into “true” if you ever bent them and two, you used to have to thread the darned fuel line through the legs when you disassembled the stove for cleaning. Now, with the new stamped legs, getting the fuel line into place is as easy as pie. And remember how the old Whisperlite’s legs would fall off if you unscrewed the priming cup? Good luck on getting them back in the right order. That’s been corrected. Now the legs stay on, even when you unscrew the priming cup. It’s a heck of a lot easier to work on a Whisperlite Universal than one of the older Whisperlites.

Another good thing: The pot supports are nearly a half inch in diameter longer than previous versions (as measured from the center of the burner). What this means is that you’ve really got an expedition class stove on your hands, one that can handle really big pots. Take a look at this photo. See that big, ugly old kettle? That kettle will hold somewhere around 3.75 liters of water. It’s a lot bigger than what most of us will ever take into the back country. How did it do on the Whisperlite Universal? Steady as a rock.

There’s another interesting twist to this new stove. The stove can connect to a gas canister. The connector on a gas canister has a 7/16″ UNEF thread on it. Conceivably then, this stove can connect to any fuel device with the proper connector, yes? I thought I’d give it a try. I took the pump off of a Primus Omnifuel stove. It hooked right up to the gas adapter of the MSR Whisperlite Universal, and it ran great.

An MSR Whisperlite Universal connected to a Primus Omnifuel pump using the Whisperlite Universal’s gas adapter.

There are those out there that just plain don’t like MSR pumps. This is good news for such people. Now, with the MSR Whisperlite Universal, you can connect up to pretty much any pump with the right connector. The two that come immediately to mind are the Brunton Vapor All Fuel pump and the Primus Omnifuel pump, but I know that there are others out there. You should note that “mixing and matching” pumps from different manufacturers is a non-standard use of the stove and is not condoned by the manufacturers. I’m not a lawyer, but if you use a stove or its components in a non-standard way, I imagine that you might void your warranty and you might lose certain legal protections. Fair warning. Neither does Seattle Backpackers Magazine endorse any use of a stove other than what the manufacturer recommends. While I see no obvious problem from a technical standpoint with “mixing and matching” pumps, and it worked fine in my tests, be aware that if you do it, you’re on your own.

With all these improvements, the stove is gotta be as heavy as a lead brick, right? Wrong. On my scale, the Whisperlite Universal came in as only 2g heavier than the current Whisperlite Internationale. Note: for purposes of weight comparison, the Whisperlite Universal was configured for liquid fuel and only the burner assembly was weighed.

What’s “Not So Good?”
Now for the “not so good.” First, let me come right out and say that none of these are really all that big of a deal compared to all the good things that come with the new Whisperlite Universal. So, keep these “not so good’s” in perspective.

First on the “not so good” list is the simple fact that there are a lot of pieces. Small pieces. Pieces that get lost easily. So, if you’re a fumble fingers, maybe this isn’t the stove for you. On the other hand, MSR has wisely included a zippered pocket in the stove bag. So, maybe this isn’t such a big deal after all.

Second on the “not so good” list is the fact that the Whisperlite Universal will only work with the current version of the MSR standard fuel pump. The aluminum block on the Whisperlite Universal is too wide to fit into older versions of the MSR standard fuel pump.

For most people, I don’t think this is going to be a big deal, but it is something to bear in mind if you’re going with a group with multiple stoves coming along: There could be compatibility issues.

Third on the “not so good” list is the fact that MSR has gone with a really stiff fuel hose. I imagine that the stiff hose is for safety purposes so people won’t accidentally place a gas canister or fuel bottle too close to the burner, but I really prefer a more flexible hose like the hose that the Simmerlite and Windpro stoves have. A flexible hose is a lot easier to pack up.

Last on the “not so good” list, the new Whisperlite Universal really doesn’t fit on the Trillium base. The old Whisperlites used to mate with the Trillium base so smoothly; it was really slick. The new, longer legs of the Whisperlite Universal extend beyond the edges of the Trillium base, and the feet are turned the wrong direction for clipping into the base. Still, there’s no reason you couldn’t rotate the base 120 degrees and use some wire to hold it in place; it just won’t be the effortless “click, click, click and you’re done” of the old Whisperlites.

That’s it. That’s my review of the Whisperlite Universal, the new stove from MSR. I’m pleased to be able to give this stove my highest rating: Highly Recommended.

Obviously, I can’t include everything in the space of this review. Are you the type that really wants to know a stove? For more details, see my blog post: MSR Whisperlite Universal — First Videos, Detailed Photos for multiple videos of the stove in action, a video on how to change the jet and fuel adapters, and literally hundreds of detailed photos with notes on the new MSR Whisperlite Universal.

HJ

The MSR Whisperlite Universal
What’s good about it?
-Excellent all weather operation
-Can operate on many fuel types including not only multiple liquid fuels but also gas
-Capable of gas operation in colder weather than conventional (upright) gas stoves
-Highly adjustable flame on gas
-Significant flame control improvement on liquid fuel
-Easier Maintenance
-Excellent pot stability
-Can handle large pots
-Stronger legs/pot supports
-Even with all the improvements, no increase in weight

What’s bad about it?
-A lot of small, easy to lose pieces
-Not compatible with anything but the current MSR standard fuel pump
-Not really compatible with the Trillium Base
-Fuel line is overly stiff, making the stove more difficult to pack

The MSR Whisperlite Universal: Highly Recommended.


The components of the Whisperlite Universal. Not shown is the stuff sack. Top row: Instructions, windscreen, gas adapter, heat reflector. Middle row: fuel bottle (sold separately), burner assembly, liquid fuel adapter, and Ziploc type bag containing jets for alternate fuels, spare parts, lubricants, and stove tool. Bottom row: Duraseal standard pump and canister stand which will hold the canister in the inverted position for cold weather use. Note: The canister stand shown in the above photo was not available during testing and is therefore not discussed in this review. Photo courtesy of MSR.

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