Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Make Your Own Waterproof Stuff Sack

I recently upgraded to a Canon S95 camera from my previous Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1. Photo quality will no doubt greatly improve, especially in low light situations. One concern was going away from a water proof camera, but I felt that the improved image quality would be well worth it. I needed to decide how I would protect my new investment from the elements of the back country, and I had some 0.6oz cuben fiber scraps, so I decided to make a custom waterproof stuff sack for it. Here's how you can make one as well...

A finished size of 4" wide x 8" tall will leave enough room at the top opening to fold it over for a water tight closure. With a 1/2" seam allowance on the side, and 1" at the top and bottom, the cut size needs to be 9 x 10.

Once the piece is cut out, start by working on the top draw cord channel. First, fold both sides at an angle to allow for an opening that the draw cord will enter and exit through. (The right side of the photo is the top of the sack).

Next use a straight stitch to secure the angled flap. This will prevent it from pulling out with the draw cord.

Then fold the top down twice to make the draw cord channel, and sew it closed.

Now it's time to sew the side shut. I like felled seams for sides of stuff sacks for their strength. Start with a 1/2" seam allowance, inside out of course, and sew using a straight stitch. Then fold the flap down and sew the end to the body of the material. Note that this can be a difficult seam to master at first, especially with a stuff sack this small. Remember to pull the material to the sides in order to keep the seam nice and flat, and go very slow. This is an area that is easy to sew something into the seam you don't want. If you do, not big deal, just pull out the bad stitches and continue.

Next comes the bottom. With a small stuff sack like this, I don't worry about squaring off the bottom corners to give it the ability to sit upright. In this example, the draw cord will come out of the side, but you could also put it in the middle depending on your needs. Fold the bottom over twice, and still inside out, sew a straight stitch. Since this will be seam taped, I will only use a single stitch.
Now it's time to apply the seam tape. Simply cut it to size and apply. It's always good to clean the material with rubbing alcohol first to maximize adhesion.

After you have applied seam tape to the side and bottom seams, turn the stuff sack right side out and add your draw cord. An easy method to calculate the length needed is width x 2 + 4". Since this sack is 4" wide, I needed a 12" long piece of draw cord. Fish it through the top channel with a safety pin, add a cord lock, and tie the end.

There you have it, a  custom sized waterproof stuff sack. This one only weighs about .07oz (my scale was going back and forth between .05 and .10, so I estimate .07). This little project will serve me for years, and I can't think of any alternative that would be any where near this light!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Make Your Own Dehydrated Meat Sauce

Do you like Mountain House meals? They are mighty tasty, but have you ever looked at the ingredients? With so many chemicals, it's a wonder there is any nutritional value at all.

Making your own meals is easy and it gives you the option of making them as healthy as you chose. A big bonus, they are way cheaper than the prepackaged meals you buy at your local outfitter! Here's a quick look at how I prepare one of my favorite freezer bag cooking meals - "John's Meat Sauce" and pasta.

Start by making your favorite meat sauce. I will post mine if you're interested. Then, feed your family and enjoy! Of course you made so much that there is a ton left. Cover your dehydrator shelf with plastic wrap, and spread the sauce evenly.

I usually have enough left over for about 4 trays, so I leave spaces in between (mine has a total of 9 shelves). Set your dehydrator for fruits/fruit rolls, about 135 degrees. My sauce is very thick and has a ton of meat, so it takes about 24 hours to dry. Your mileage may vary.

Sauce is ready to come out...

In order for the sauce to rehydrate faster and more completely, I put it in a blender and grind it into a rough powder consistency. Re-hydrated, it's still very thick.

Stored for future use. I use about 3/4 cup per dinner, and Juggy uses about 1/2 cup. Add your favorite pasta and place single meal sized portions in quart sized freezer bags. At dinner time, simply add about 2 cups of boiling water, stir, seal the bag, and let rehydrate for about 8 minutes. At approx 230 calories per serving (meat sauce only), this is one great tasting, high calorie, nutritional ultralight backpacking meal!

Get your dehydrating supplies here at the Mountain UltraLight Store.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Use Lip Balm Container and Save Weight

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to lighten your load is to simply take less. By repacking things into smaller containers, you save ounces, sometimes just fractions of an ounce, but it all adds up to pounds on your back.
This isn't a Body Glide product review, but as an aside, this stuff rocks for foot lubricant, and for any other areas you are having blistering or chafing problems. Any way, back on topic - 

Body Glide comes in 2.5oz, 1.3oz, and 0.45oz (not pictured) sizes. All of these are way more than I would use in a weeks time. When preparing for our recent trip to Mt Hood, I proudly packed mine in the above 0.25oz  backpackinglight    mini balm jar. After the 4 day trip was over it was still more than half full, and I had shared it with my wife the entire time. It was obvious to me that there was still weight savings to be had. Then the idea came to me...lip balm containers hold 0.15oz, still more than enough for a week!

The four containers above weigh 3.8oz, 2.3oz, 0.65oz, and 0.30oz full of product. Now you might think I'm splitting hairs going from the container that weighs 0.65oz to the one that weighs 0.30oz, but this is what ultralight is all about. If you do this with everything in your pack, it really shaves off weight quickly. 

Think of it this way...the smallest container in the above example is a whopping 92% lighter than the largest option, and 54% lighter than the second lightest. So take everything you need, and nothing you don't. Sounds easy, but the concept is difficult for most people to grasp.

Simple, easy, and inexpensive...or in this case, free!

Get Bodyglide here at the Mountain UltraLight Store.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wish List - Katabatic Gear Palisade Down Quilt

To my loving wife Juggy,
Please approve the purchase of this new 18 ounce, 30 degree down quilt from Katabatic Gear

Reasons you should approve:
1. Going from our two person Nunatak quilt to this one will shave a full pound off of my gear.
2. Since we will need to buy you one as well, you will now be more self reliant. If we ever get separated out in the wild, you will be much safer. This is a vast improvement for only 16 ounces added to your gear!
3. The price is very reasonable at $330 for the size long!
4. The short size I will get for you is only $300
5. Did I mention it will shave a full pound off of my gear?
6. Check out the cool way it attaches to your sleeping pad!

Reasons you should not approve:
1. I can't think of any...

If I don't hear back from you in the next 10 minutes, I'll assume you approve this purchase. 


Your loving husband John

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Photo Journal of my 7.4lb 3 Season Gear List

If a picture is worth a thousand words then this should be a much more interesting gear list than your typical spreadsheet. The gear is intended to work on a multi-month through hike in the Sierras, so it needs to be durable and provide a reasonable margin of safety in all kinds of conditions. My 7.4 pound base weight (everything except consumables, i.e. food, water, fuel) includes shelter and quilt for two people.

Packed first are my Nunatak 2 person quilt, Montbell UL Down Inner Parka, an extra shirt (so I have one to wear while my other is drying), Montbell wind pants, an extra pair of Wigwam Ironman Triathlon hiking socks, PossumDown sleep socks, waterproof cuben fiber stuff sack, all on top of my Gossamer Gear Thinlight pad - cut down to 1/4 x 21 x 41, with my Make Your Own Gear (MYOG) 3,000 cubic inch cuben fiber backpack in the background.

Gear is compressed, waterproof, and ready to go into the backpack.

A close-up shot of how to make a standard stuff sack closure waterproof...just fold it over once, then wrap the draw cord around three times and cinch tight.

I like to fold my sleep pad rather than roll it. This helps keep the backpack flatter against your back as well as adding more padding where it counts.

The remaining gear consists of a cuben food storage stuff sack with 3 days worth of food, Marmot Essence rain jacket, Smartwool glove liners (packed in the waterproof pocket of rain jacket for easy access), Zpacks Hexamid Twin tent, Trail Designs Caldera-H stove with MYOG cuben stuff sack, essentials bag (more details in a future post), knee brace, tp, and hand sanitizer.

Tent and stove packed.

Food packed on top.

Top is closed and cinched down for vertical compression. Everything else is packed in the outside pockets for easy accessibility, along with a 1 liter Gatorade bottle (or two, depending on water conditions).

Optional items depending on the trip...Tenkara USA 12' Iwana rod, fishing gear in MYOG cuben stuff sack, Simblissity Mosquito Headnet (peak season only), Blackberry (for updating online trail journal).

Optional items packed, horizontal compressors snugged up, and I'm

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Product Review - Trail Designs Ti-Tri Inferno

Rating: 4.5 out of 5: Recommended

The guys at Trail Designs have built a great reputation for themselves by providing innovative products and excellent customer service. Their Caldera Cone system was a revolution in UL wind screen/pot holder design, and since my first purchase (for my MSR Titan kettle), I've been a fan.

Building on a great idea, they created the Ti-Tri, a titanium version of the Caldera Cone which is capable of using three types of fuel (alcohol, esbit, or wood). A while back I purchased one of these Ti-Tri systems from their partners at Titanium Goat, along with an 1100ml pot and lid combo. With a total weight of 7.55oz for the cone/floor/pot/lid combo, this quickly became my favorite stove system. Not only was it light and large enough for two people, in wood burning mode it boiled 2 cups of water in an incredible 5 min 15 sec...and I no longer had to carry fuel!

I recently learned that they have been working with a prototype of an inverted downdraft gasifier version of the Ti-Tri, which is the same double walled technology used in the popular Bush Buddy stove. While I do not own a BB, I have experimented with many different MYOG BB designs, and this TD version peaked my interest. I contacted Rand via email, and within one day he and Russ had made the Inferno insert and had it in the mail to me so I could use/test it on a trip I had planned to Charleston Peak, high above Las Vegas (approx 10,500' where I camped) that weekend.

The workmanship of this piece is excellent, as I have come to expect of any Trail Designs product. Here are some photos from my trip:

Inferno insert ready to be lit

Inferno with outer cone & ti stakes in place

The fire is ready for the pot in approx 1 min

2 cups water boiling in just over 5 min!

Ti-Tri Inferno in camp fire mode...I loaded this thing up to the top with wood and pine cones, and it never smoked!

What's left after about an hour of burn time


  • Ti-Tri Caldera Cone = 1.75oz
  • Ti floor = .60oz
  • Inferno insert = 1.25oz
  • Total stove = 3.60oz

Note: I didn't count the ti stakes because I use two from my tarp set up.

Comparing the Ti-Tri to the Ti-Tri Inferno:
Both systems boiled 2 cups of water in approximately the same time - 5min, 15 sec. Is the additional 1.25oz of the Inferno worth its weight?


  • Easier to light
  • Less smoke
  • Re-lights easier if the flame goes out
  • Burns wood fuel down to ashes


  • Somewhat complicated assembly - many parts to deal with
  • You will inevitably get soot on your hands while disassembling it

The bottom line is, both the Ti-Tri and the Ti-Tri Inferno work well, but the Inferno model just works better in wood burning mode. If you want a wood burning stove that's easier to light and requires less tending to, and want a cleaner burn (i.e. less smoke in your face), then the Ti-Tri Inferno may be the right stove for you. .

Trail Designs has made a great system even better. Because the Inferno enhanced my back country experience, to me as least, the additional 1.25oz is worth its weight if I don't plan to carry fuel and am cooking for two people. That's why I gave it a rating of 4.5 our of 5.

(Previously published on 8/2009).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Trip Report - Mt Hood to Columbia River Gorge on the Pacific Crest Trail

Helping a friend lighten up, Make Your Own Gear, and backpacking from Mt Hood to Columbia River Gorge...55 miles via the Pacific Crest Trail 9/04/2010 - 9/07/2010

My wife Jene (aka “Juggy”), her cousin Michael (aka "Golden Boy") and I have wanted to do this trip for quite a while now, since before Golden Boy and his family moved out of the area and up to Seattle. We finally got a few days blocked off on the calendar, and the excitement began. Golden Boy would plan the route, and I was on a mission to help him lighten his load.

Golden Boy had been working on lowering his base weight for quite a while, and was at a respectable 13lbs, but he needed a nudge to get it under 10lbs. There were some easy things I suggested he do, such as repack everything into smaller dropper bottles and mini zip top baggies. Trade in the heavy z-rest pad for a 3/8" closed cell foam pad, cut down to torso length of course. Replace the 45oz synthetic sleeping bag with a 25oz down quilt. Lose the dry bag and go with a pack liner. Then I offered to make him a Heineken stove system to replace his heavier titanium pot and wind screen, and also to make him one of my new super tough, 3,000 c.i. cuben fiber backpacks. He loved the ideas.

With all the weight savings, we both decided to try some new TenkaraUSA flyfishing rods. He went with the 11' Iwana and me the 12' Iwana. Our fishing kits total about 6oz including rod, flies and fly box, Tenkara line, tippet spool, nippers for cutting line, pliers for removing hooks, fishing license, and a myog cuben stuff sack with an extra long draw cord so we could hang them around our necks while fishing.

After all the changes, we calculated his base weight would now be less than 10lbs (included the added fishing gear), and I got to making the gear. The stove was fairly straight forward, a myog version of a caldera cone and an Esbit titanium gram weenie, and I enjoyed the beer after cutting the top off with a safety can opener. A cuben stuff sack rounded off the extremely light stove system. Then on to the pack...I had just made my first 4.6 oz cuben about a month before pack (previous versions were silnylon), and I had about 30 miles of testing on it. So far it was wearing very well. The 1.5 oz per square yard cuben fiber material is much tougher than the 1.3 oz silnylon for close to the same weight. For Golden Boy's pack, he would require a hip belt and sternum strap, so the design would be altered slightly. His pack ended up weighing 6oz flat, and I got it done a few days before our departure. Juggy packed our home made freezer bag meals...Couscous with nuts, berries, and powdered milk for breakfast, tortillas, pepperoni, and parmesan cheese lunch, pasta with dehydrated meat sauce dinners, and a selection of Clif and Snickers bars, and we were good to go.

The alarm went off at 3:45am on Friday so we could leave the house by 4:30am for our early flight. A few hours later, Michael picked us up at the Seattle airport, and we headed to his house about an hour away, stopping at Trader Joe's on the way for a few last minute things. We were greeted at the door by 8 month pregnant Yvonne, family hugs and excitement! After carrying our packs and suite case to the spare bedroom, I opened my pack and presented the new backpack, stove, and Tenkara stuff sack to Golden Boy. While he and I were comparing gear and looking at the trail maps, the girls were talking about the new baby and making fun of us boys. Good times!

Day 1 - 9/04/2010 An early Saturday morning and a 4 hour drive, we dropped a car off at the Columbia River Gorge (where we would finish our hike), jumped in with the girls, and headed to Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood. (This is the hotel that was used in the filming of The Shining.) A cool, breezy, sunny day on the mountain, we said goodbye to little Michael and Yvonne, and hit the trail by around 11:30am with our wind jackets on.

This being Juggy and my first time in the area, we admired the beauty of the mountain and glaciers. The trail was fairly easy, as would be most of our intended route. This was appreciated since we had not trained for this hike, and hence were not in the physical condition Juggy and I were in 5 months prior for our 110 mile PCT section A hike. We talked about the wild life we might see, little black bears, elk, deer, big horn sheep, garter snakes...we hoped to see many at a safe distance. We took our first break overlooking Zigzag gorge, and then made the decent down the steep trail.

We made it over Zigzag River without getting wet, and made the long slow climb up the other side.

The day consisted of beautiful scenery, sunny skies, and all kinds of springs. Living in the desert, this was a real treat for Juggy and me. We had lunch high above Sandy River, with beautiful views of waterfalls and the surrounding mountains.

After lunch we made our way down a beautiful lush valley trail and out into the Sandy River Gorge.

It was getting to be late afternoon with only a few more miles to our planned camping destination. A bear paw print on the trail reminded us we were not alone out here.

We crossed another small creek and started looking for a good place to camp. Another half a mile or so, just before the next creek, we found a great place just a little ways off the trail. We set up camp, cleaned up, and made a good hot dinner.

Juggy and Golden Boy had a good laugh at my attempts to get the bear line over an appropriate branch, which I finally did about the time we were losing the natural light. We had a camp fire in the existing pit, which is a feat in an area this wet. The red wine we brought kept us up talking by the fire for a few hours before we finally turned in for the night. Wine? Hey, it was an easy 12 mile first day, with plenty of water around, so why not partake?

Day 2 - 9/05/2010 We slept late in the peaceful rain. After break fast we hit the trail and found a very cool footbridge over the wide rushing creek.

On the other side of the creek we found huge old growth trees and even more lush foliage.

I had accidentally left my glove liners in the pockets of my down parka, which was packed away under our 2 person quilt. Rather than stop and dig for my gloves, I kept exercising my hands on my trekking poles to keep them warm. This worked surprisingly well and my fingers were warmed up in a few minutes.

The off and on rain and kept us cool all day, although the cloud cover blocked our views of the surrounding area. Several elk tracks got us excited that we might spot some, but no such luck.

We reached our destination for our second night after walking about 14 miles in the mid afternoon. Lost Lake, approximately 2 miles off the PCT, is nestled in a beautifully wooded valley.

We were all more tired than we should have been, which I attribute to not taking breaks throughout the day like we normally do. We took advantage of the resort with hot showers and a rustic (to put it nicely) cabin with a toasty wood stove in the middle.

Day 3 - 9/06/2010 We awoke at 6:15am to the alarm on my watch. After some coffee and breakfast, we headed to a vantage point near the Lost Lake with Mt. Hood in the distance for some photos. Clouds blocked the top of the mountain, so we'll have to go back some time to nab the perfect shot.

We started the 1 mile walk around the lake around 7:50am, made the 2 mile ascent back to the PCT, and all 3 of us realized how great we were feeling. We ran into some through hikers that had already hiked 2,100 miles on this trail, and were about to get another state behind them the next day as they entered Washington. With 500 miles left this late in the season, they are bound to hit some nasty weather in Washington. Hopefully they are able to finish their quest.

We were diligent in taking a short break and having a small snack about every hour, which kept us feeling energized all day. The weather was and partly cloudy. The trees were so dense, we didn't get many views. At one point the view opened up when crossing a lava chute, and Golden Boy and I gasped at the same moment when we caught a glimpse of the now far away, dramatic Mt Hood.

Reaching Whantum Lake in the early afternoon, we had an easy 16 mile day behind us. This is another pristine area, and after we set up camp we had plenty of time to head down to the lake and try out our new Tenkara rods. Golden Boy is a big western fly fisherman, having lived in Oregon for many years with a trout stream running through his property, but Tenkara was brand new to him. I on the other hand had not fished much since my childhood. The afternoon wind brought us with less than optimal conditions for fly fishing, but Golden Boy was able to nab a couple of very small Steelheads before we called it quits.

Back at camp we had another camp fire in an existing pit, and enjoyed the rock chairs with backrests that someone had set up in front of the fire pit. We called it a night early so we could get a good rest for our last day.

Day 4 - 9/07/2010 My alarm went off, and we all laid there for a few minutes. Golden Boy and I let loose a morning flatulent at the exact same time - a very funny way to start the day! We broke camp and it started raining as we were taking our tents down.  (Golden Boy corrected us that this wasn't rain for Oregon) Rain jackets on, we hit the trail right away. The dense vegetation got our legs pretty wet, but the lower elevation kept the air temperature comfortable. We stopped for breakfast about an hour in, which I much prefer than having it at camp.

Dropping into the Eagle Creek area, we were a bit overwhelmed by the beauty of all the tropical vegetation, huge waterfalls, and the very cool trail cut right into the side of the rock wall.

There are cables in some sections
 to hold on to due to the high exposure, but the trail never really got that narrow to use them. 

Probably the coolest part was when we rounded an outside corner and caught a glimpse of Tunnel Falls. The trail actually goes through a tunnel behind the huge fall!

We made it back to the parking lot by about 1:30pm, cleaned up a bit, and then headed to Char Burger for burgers and beer. This wasn't the best food, but there's something about a burger and beer after backpacking that's so good! After lunch, another 4 hour drive back to Seattle.

Yvonne had Elk tacos ready for us when we got there, but first things
first...showers. We had a great night of eating, drinking, reminiscing about the trip, and talking about the next one we would do together. Perhaps in Eastern Oregon in the spring? We are already planning a SOBO JMT thru-hike next summer...222 miles in two weeks. I’m ready to go again!