Wednesday, 28 April 2010

super duper uber light

Disclaimer: I mean no offense to anyone whose primary hobby is lightweight backpacking or camping, in fact I have a great deal of respect for the ideals and practices of those for whom the way of the scales is a way of life, however, this way of life is not mine, and as such I may just take the pee a little. Sorry.

Going lightweight.

‘Oh my god’, you’re probably all thinking, ‘please don’t turn into one of those thousands of lightweight backpacking blogs’ – you know, the ones written by people seemingly obsessed with cutting every last gram of weight from what they’re carrying, quite literally.

Now, I’m not one to slag off what are often very well thought out, entertainingly written and occasionally inspirational articles and posts, but come on people – cutting off the handle of your toothbrush to save weight? Is this not a tad excessive? Besides, why are you even carrying a toothbrush on a single night’s wild camping on Dartmoor?
So what’s my point? Well I guess my point is that the ‘going lightweight’ concept does very much have a place in modern day hill sport, be that walking, climbing, or in the most critical and extreme cases, Alpinism. However, it often seems to me that the increasingly popular gram counting, lightweight backpacking obsession is just a futile exercise designed to encourage people to buy more and more expensive gear.

That said, some of the lightweight backpacking forums are actually full of homemade kit ideas, where people have decided that commercially available products either aren’t light enough or simply don’t do what they envision wanting. Sometimes all this yields is a vast number of slightly different designs for gravity defying alcohol stoves, which, whilst looking like great fun to make, would likely be woefully inadequate when battling your way up a 3 day route on a large Alpine North face. Sometimes though, these homemade options really do make a difference.

Now, I’m not interested in carrying a pack that weighs less than one of my bras when I go wild camping, far from it – for me, the heavier the bag (within reason), the better the training effect*.
I am however, hugely interested in ways of reducing the load needed for an Alpine bivvy, and also ways of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the equipment I do carry. And this is where the lightweight backpacking concept steps in to provide ideas and inspiration.

Often the best way of reducing the weight of what you’re carrying, is simply not to carry it. Leave the things you don’t absolutely need behind. To this end, my latest project has involved cooking equipment, or more specifically, my cooking pot.
I own several pieces of ‘camping cookware’ from kettles and large pans, to mugs you can cook in. By far the most useful and versatile item I own though, is a simple 1l ‘solo’ pot made by Primus (I think it’s called a Trek Kettle or something like that). Now, it may not be the lightest option out there, but it’s a good size, it’s sturdy and well made, and most importantly, I like it. The only negative side it has is the fact that the ‘lid’ is actually a mini frying pan.
Why is the frying pan lid a negative? Surely it just makes the thing more versatile? Well, yes and no. Yes it does make it more versatile in principle, but I’ve never used the damn thing and can’t ever envisage doing so. It is also quite heavy, so leaving it behind is no loss, except of course, it is a loss because all of a sudden the pan has no lid and loses a great deal of cooking efficiency, meaning you use more fuel.

So what to do…
I decided to make a new lid. A lovely, simple, homemade, cheap (aka free), lightweight lid:


Ta da. Yep, it’s a CD.

I was stunned and delighted to discover that a normal CD was actually the perfect fit, and upon testing it proved to be really rather efficient as the inside layer is of course reflective. The only question then was of what to make a handle out of when a blinding flash of inspiration hit me – Phil was drinking wine…So I simply carved the cork to wedge in the hole in the centre of the disk.

I don’t know how long this lid will actually last, but seeing as it was essentially free to make from waste products and only took about 2 minutes to work and assemble, it won’t exactly be a problem to replace it every once in a while.

On a slightly different note, anyone with some time to kill could do worse than to entertain themselves by browsing some of the ‘lightweight’ forums, especially the American ones…there really are some fantastical and bizzarre ideas out there…

*For anyone who hasn’t been following this blog for long I shall just summarise – I’m primarily a rock climber, but am also broadening my horizons into the world of Alpine Climbing and Mountaineering, so for me, days spent hacking round the Welsh hills with a hefty rucksack, provide good ‘hill training’ in preparation for carrying big loads of climbing equipment on top of basic bivvy gear, at altitude. The fitter I get, the better I will do when I head out to the proper mountains. So whilst carrying a rucksack that weighs less than a packet of crisps is undoubtedly more pleasant than carrying a full load of ropes and hardware etc, it simply won’t provide as great a training effect.


  1. I really like simple solutions like that being an outdoorsy freak myself. However, will that CD work when the cookware is heated?

    I'd worry about the plastic disk releasing some nasty chemicals into my stew using it like that especially because I prefer open flame cooking from alcohol stoves (I bring the stove and a small amount going but once the stove is working I generally let the alcohol burn out and feed it twigs instead) because the added weight of alcohol to burn is something I try to be without if I am out for more than a couple of days.

    But I still like that.

    I got a lovely book in Swedish made by a writer who spent years with the Saami people in the north of scandinavia, teaching on how to get a fire started using fresh wood and what will give the best tinder for cooking and so on. I don't think there is an english translation for it but I might write a summary sometime because I think the book is a really good source of information for outdoors people who wish to save on the carried fuel and just go with what is growing around them insted.

    And of course YMMV, don't know if you are even allowed to do cooking like we do here in the wilderness in the UK...

  2. Ichi,

    I was concerned too about how the disk would fair when heated, and it was remarkably...unremarkable. Because of the reflective properties of the base, the CD seemed to barely get hot, even when water was boiling inside the pan. It certainly didn't bend or distort in any way.

    I was also concerned about the possibility of toxin release and so I have been doing some research, and whilst I am still not entirely sure, I don't believe the type of plastic used to be problematic in this regard, although if I'm wrong I'd love to be corrected.

    I don't intend using the CD lid much though if I'm honest, there are very few occasions where I will need to be cutting my pack weight back (as I mentioned), but bivvying on route in the Alps will be somewhere that every gram will count.

    As for the bushcraft stuff - Phil is hugely into all that kind of thing, we have a wood burning 'Kelly kettle' in the garage, which is wonderful but massively too big and heavy to be used backpacking, we do experiment with fuels and ignition methods though - I may post more up at some point, I really am an anorak!

    Never got into the whole alcohol stove thing though, it all just seems too much of a faff for me if I'm honest.