Monday, May 26, 2014

My (Mostly) DIY Hammock Camp

Dave and I recently upgraded our tent to a Tarptent.  It's super light (3.43 lbs, including ground cloth), but it's tiny - a tight squeeze for the two of us.  It's adequate for shelter, but in terms of comfort, it's no Chateau Dayan.

Enter the hammock.

The hammock was my bed in my closet-sized room in the lake house.  I thought it would make a comfortable, lightweight alternative to a tent (as long as I camp below treeline!)...  of course, after I made a few modifications.

The Hammock

Grand Trunk Ultralight.  Still not sure where I got it - K & T won't take responsibility - must have been the hammock fairy?

The hammock itself was the only part of this kit that was not DIY'ed.

The Suspension

The hammock came with some heavy paracord and heavy "S" rings.  The paracord munches through tree bark, and the system was a PITA to adjust.  First it's too loose, then it's too tight, then it's not centered - bah humbug!!

I replaced that bunk with a ridgeline (that's the rope connecting each corner of the hammock) to hold the amount of "sag" in the hammock steady.  The ends of the hammock are connected to whoopie slings (whoopie!), which are adjustable, spliced loops of rope.  And the whoopie slings attach to tree slings, which are straps of 1'' webbing to protect the tree.

In this photo, you can also see my little ridgeline organizer, where I store my glasses, ear plugs, and headlamp.

Together, the hammock and suspension weighs 1.13 lbs.

The Shelter

I'm the type of person that needs to sleep under a cover 12 months of the year.  I like having hidey-holes and being tucked out of sight.  I was willing to have a bigger (read: heavier) tarp, if it meant I had a retreat!

my diy tarp!  right door unstaked
My DIY tarp has two doors that can be staked inward or outward for privacy, warmth, and additional weather protection.  

It's made out of light-weight silicone impregnated nylon with a ridgeline made of "Lash It" (which does not stretch).  The guylines are attached to some shock cord, so when the nylon stretches overnight, I'll maintain a tight pitch.

Weighing in at 1.80 lbs, plus 0.23 lbs for stakes, this isn't the lightest tarp.  But I made it, and I love it!  

On trips when Davo and I expect bad weather, we're packing this in addition to the TarpTent, so we have plenty of space for gear, cooking, sitting, etc.

The Insulation 

One downside to hammock camping is that the air passing underneath your hammock removes heat from your body via convection.  Sleeping in an un-insulated hammock in temps below 70ish is chilly.

For a while, I was sleeping on top of my ThermaRest, but at 1.50 lbs, I wanted something lighter.  This closed-cell foam pad is 0.68 lbs and cost $8 - much better.

To keep the pad from sliding around in the night, I sewed two pockets into the hammock.  I also painted circles of 100% grippy silicone caulk onto the hammock fabric.  Works great!

The Bugnet

My bugnet is a big bag made of No-See-Um mesh that slips over the hammock and has a drawstring at the bottom.  Super simple.  Don't even have a photo of it.  Weighs 0.28 lbs.

Ironically, the weight of the tarp, hammock, bugnet, and stakes is 3.43 lbs - exactly the same as the TarpTent!  For the same weight, though, I get a TON more space, WAY more comfort, MUCH more versatility in camping locations, and the pleasure of having made my own gear, customized for me, at a fraction of the cost of buying it from a store.

Happy hanging!

Friday, May 23, 2014

My Turbo Cat II Stove

True statement about my husband:  the man can eat.  Dave can really put it away!  When we backpack, we bring a 2 liter pot, fill it completely with food, and he eats 3/4 of it.

Our typical powerhouse for backcountry cooking in quantity is the MSR Whisperlite, a random not-so-light pot, and assorted utensils.
this, people, this is what i have to work with...
Problem:  that stuff is heavy.  Even leaving the big pot behind and bringing a small MSR pot, it is still
3.82 lbs heavy, before fuel.

Enter the Turbo Cat II Stove.

revised cook kit - fuel bottle not shown (it's just a boring 12 oz soda bottle)

*1 sheet of aluminum dryer vent - $4.50 at hardware store
*1 cake pan - $1 at dollar store
*1 "grease pot" - $5 online
*Epoxy - $6 at hardware store
*1 PBR can (already in fridge)
*1 tuna can (already in pantry)
*2 paperclips (found in couch)
*Fiberglass insulation scrap (from shed)
*1 metal hanger (found in closet)
*Drill n' bits (already have it)
*Pot handle (from MSR kit)

Total cost:  $16.50

Total weight:  1.00 lbs exactly (saving 74% of previous cook kit weight)

Satisfaction of having built my own stove:  pretty darn high.

The Stove
This little stove runs on denatured alcohol.  Denatured alcohol can be found just about anywhere and it's relatively non-toxic, so you pour only what you need for a trip into an old soda bottle.

The stove itself consists of a burn cup (PBR can bottom) with a fiberglass wick enclosed by a vent cup (tuna can).  Holes are punched in the vent cup and closed with a sliding ring to limit the amount of oxygen available to the flame - resulting in a nice, long, slow simmer (try that with a Whisperlite!).

The Accessories
The windscreen is made of aluminum dryer vent.  The coat hanger pot supports bisect the windscreen, holding the pot above the flame.  The cake pan made a heat reflecting, durable ground cover.

The pot is a "Stanco grease strainer."  It's flimsy aluminum and isn't for gourmet cooking...  but for a single reheated meal, it's perfect!  Just replace the lid with a paperclip and save another ounce.

man that pot handle looks huge... gotta be a better way...
So, does it work?  Sure does!

boiling boiling boiling
I estimate ~1 tablespoon of fuel gets 2 cups of cold water to a hard rolling boil in ~5 minutes.

I won't be able to cook for both Dave and I with the Turbo Cat II - I'd have to cook three meals for Dave and one for myself.  But!  For solo trips, this is perfect for me.  Lightweight, simple, nothing to break, nothing to pump, nothing to prime, and the perfect size pot.

Many thanks to John Bednar for publishing his plans online - they were perfect!  I improved on his plans slightly by using a can opener that pries the lid from the can, leaving it intact.  This resulted in a perfect stove bottom (simply epoxied the lid of the can back on, instead of cutting another piece of aluminum).

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Losing Weight: No Wonder Backpacking (Used To) Hurt

I'm planning at least one solo backpacking trip this summer - solo as in no Davo, solo as in I carry all of my own gear.  Typically, we split the "group gear," like the tent, stove, bear can, food, etc.  Knowing that I'm usually exhausted, even when splitting the group gear, I had no idea how I could manage on my own.

So, I did what I usually do when I'm trying to figure out a problem:  I made a list.

I listed every single item I would usually carry on a backpacking trip.  I weighed each of those items on my little kitchen scale that's accurate to 0.05 oz.  And I totaled up the weights.

Not including any clothing worn on my body, not including any consumables (food, water, fuel), not including variable weights (maps)... base pack weight would be 32.65 pounds.  Remember, that's before 2 x 2 lb liters of water and 2-3 lbs of food per day.  If I didn't change what I was carrying, I could conceivably end up with a ~45 lb pack.  That's approximately 35% of my body weight.

No wonder backpacking hurts.  My pack needed a serious diet.

huuuge packs in the boundary waters...  (it's mostly sleeping bag, shhhh)

Fast forward 2 months and around $150.

My base pack weight is now 14.51 pounds, assuming it's not winter AND I don't need to carry a bear can AND I'm going to be slightly colder than usual.  Not ultralight, but a huge improvement for very little investment.

I cut down my pack weight by considering every single thing I used to carry and asking the following questions, in order:
  1. Is this necessary?  (med kit = yes, inflatable pillow = no)
  2. Can something already in the pack perform the same function?  (e.g. bandana = filter for water floaties)
  3. Can I carry less, repackage, or literally cut off the bits I don't use?  (e.g. bye bye, toothbrush handle)
  4. If not, can I make another DIY version that's lighter?  (introducing the cat can stove!)
  5. If not, can I find a commercial version that is within my (very small) budget?  (only my tent stakes and hammock pad made it this far down the list)
What does this look like in practice?

From this (Dave has most of the pack weight on the last day - imagine me carrying 50% of his stuff):
i still have that scar on my leg, too...
To this:
yes, that is actually my backpacking pack.  plus blue sleeping pad, seen standing on floor
Pretty cool!  I'm looking forward to taking it out for a test hike this weekend.  I'm especially proud of my hammock/ shelter and stove, so I'm going to show them off in their own posts.