Showing posts with label Tramping Skills. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tramping Skills. Show all posts

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Tramping Theory: Following Leave No Trace principles in the outdoors


"...take only photos, leave only foot prints..."

I have a keen interest in nature and the environment so I thought it would be a good idea to discuss how I incorporate environmental concerns into my tramping. To that end I practice the principles of Leave No Trace while out in the back-country.

© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.

Lets have a look at Leave No Trace and discus how it impacts my style of outdoor adventures


What is Leave No Trace


Leave No Trace is an ethical framework which provides us with a way of interacting with nature. The movement started in the United States in the 1990's but has since spread to various  areas of the globe. The framework is based on the realisation that the environment is fragile and under increasing pressure from mankind, we as outdoors people must all play our part in preserving it.

Irish version of the Leave No Trace principles
Leave No Trace means engaging with nature in its natural state, not altering it to suit your own purpose.Obviously there are few if any places around the world mankind has not impacted in some fashion. Following the Leave No Trace guidelines mean we can minimise our individual and collective impact on the extant environment.

The seven principles of Leave No Trace theory:

Leave No Trace has seven guiding principles, these are meant to shape the actions of practitioners while in the back-country. They promote a sustainable way to co exist within nature. 

These seven principles are:

Principle 1: Plan ahead and prepare




Principle 2: Travel and camp on durable surfaces



Principle 3: Dispose of waste properly



Principle 4: Leave what you find



Principle 5: Minimise camp-fire impacts



Principle 6: Respect wildlife & farm animals



Principle 7: Be considerate to other visitors



My approach to Leave No Trace

While I am no expert on Leave No Trace I have made a conscious effort to incorporate the seven principles into all of my outdoor activities. I also talk to people about the principles to disseminate the information as widely as possible. This is an approach we can all easily incorporate, together we can work to change everyone's attitudes.

Jon in his natural environment...


 Here are a few photos demonstrating aspects of the seven principles of Leave No Trace and how they impact on the environment.

First up...if you are camping try to camp on a durable surface like rock, sand or mineral dirt. If there is a pre-existing camp-site on these type of surfaces use it. Rather than damaging virgin bush use one of the over 200 DOC camp-sites scattered around the country.

One of the nearly 200 DOC camp-sites in New Zealand: Torrent Bay Camp-site, Abel Tasman NP


My Luxe tent set up in the established camp site at Cowshed Bay, Marlborough

Plan and prepare your itinerary and gear before undertaking any outdoor adventure. In the Army we had a saying Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance- if you plan thoroughly your performance in the outdoors will be much better. The Mountain Safety Council has a wealth of resources on planning a trip into the outdoors.

Plan thoroughly to prevent accidents...
 
Always, always pack out what you have packed in, do not leave litter in the natural environment. Don't burn plastics in a camp fire or wood burner. If you have space take any rubbish you find with you. Trying to minimise the packaging you use is also a good general method of environmental care.

Lucky Jon carrying the rubbish bag...

If you must start a fire make sure it is on a durable surface like rock, sand or bare mineral earth. If a pre-existing fire ring or fireplace is available please use it, try to avoid a multitude of ugly fire circles.

Firing up the billy on sand minimises its long term visual impact...
...or use an existing fire pit!


 Better still, forget about that fire and use a small cooker...no embers, no smoke and no trace left behind!

Brew time on the bed of the Blue Grey River, Victoria FP in 2016

If you find some kind of historic structure or artefact please respect its scientific, cultural and historic values and leave it in place! Often its importance is tied to the location...removing it or vandalising it devalues its worth. This is especially important for Maori artefacts...they represent the history of their people and should never be touched.

Historic boat wrecks, Quail Island, Banks Peninsula


When I'm out tramping I stay on the tracks whenever possible, obviously this is not always possible but if there is a choice between track or virgin bush always use the track. Do not go around muddy spots on a track, doing so will encourage others and widen the track.

Following the St James Walkway in 2015, nice dry track, use the stiles and bridges provided
A muddy track...go through it not around it!

You should avoid building shelters in the outdoors unless it is an emergency. Moving the materials for these shelters can damage the local ecology by removing a natural home/food source and are visually offensive. If you must build a shelter make sure you return the materials to their original location afterwards.

Don't build shelters of natural materials unless absolutely necessary!


In New Zealand we do not have a lot of the larger mammals you find in other back-country regions of the world. Therefore our interactions with them are limited.

St James wild horses...one of the few large wild animals we have in New Zealand!


What we do have are birds...when you are out on your adventures ensure you interact with our native birds in a careful and responsible manner. Do not feed them, do not interfere with them and respect their boundaries.


Kea or New Zealand Mountain Parrot at Arthur's Pass...don't feed them!
A Weka or native Wood-hen, fearless scavengers of human detritus

When you are tramping do so in either a small group or solo. Large groups are far more likely to disturb any resident wildlife as well as causing greater cumulative damage to the flora they pass.

Tramping in a small group is less invasive to the environment


Educate yourself about the Leave No Trace principles and try to put them into use whenever you are in the outdoors.

Final thoughts on Leave No Trace

At heart I am an environmentalist, I believe that man is the most dangerous threat to the natural world. Nature is to be enjoyed but we must strive to minimise our impact upon it. For that reason I wholeheartedly approve the Leave No Trace framework.

Waimakiriri River Valley...the type of rugged beauty we are trying to preserve

When I am in the back-country I put these seven guiding principles into practical use at all times.  I would rather expend a bit more effort than deprive future generations of the right to experience the majesty of mother nature.

Me enjoying quiet commune with nature, Travers-Sabine Circuit 2018


If you would like more information about the Leave No Trace movement then check out the Leave No Trace website or look for a related programme in your local area. There are also many educational courses available which will allow you to educate others about the principles of Leave No Trace, check your local University, Polytechnic or Outdoor education provider.



The next time you go tramping I would urge you to follow the general principles of Leave No Trace, play your own small part in preserving our natural environment.

...take only photos, leave only footprints!

Useful Links: Leave No Trace

Here are some links that you may find useful:

Department of Conservation: Leave No Trace care codes

Leave No Trace.Org:  Leave No Trace Centre for Outdoor Ethics

Mountain Safety Council of New Zealand: Trip planning resources 

The New Zealand Leave No Trace site: Leave No Trace New Zealand

Wikipedia: Leave No Trace




Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Tramping Equipment: What type of tramping stove?

Equipment for back-country cookery: Tramping/Hiking stoves

 There are a variety of ways to heat water and cook food while pursuing your outdoor adventures. The most obvious is the use of an open fire but due to the environmental impact this is now a discredited method. While open fires are not illegal they should only be used to cook food in an emergency.

Camp-fire cooking...as old as humankind.
Instead there are a myriad variety of stoves specifically manufactured for back country use. I thought it might be useful to look at these various types and explain what I use and why.

  So many types of outdoor cooker...

To start let us look at the types of cookers available. Note that the terms stove and cooker are interchangeable, you call them stoves we call them cookers!

 Iso-butane or gas canister stoves

The most commonly used stoves are those using iso-butane canisters, these are often refereed to as 'gas stoves'.  A gas stove will consist of the gas 'bottle' and a screw on cooker unit which you attach to the bottle.  Please note that the older 'pierced' type of gas cannister is very difficult to find in New Zealand, we all use screw on cookers.

Kovea Titanium Tramping Stove

There are two main types of gas cooker, those that attach to the top of the bottle and those that are free standing. Above is a Kovea Titanium stove, this is typical of the top attached cooker. As you can see it has a perforated burner head, with a mechanism on the side to control the gas flow. There are fold out pot supports above the burner head. The button next to the Kovea branding is the piezo spark actuator.

Using my top fitting Kovea gas canister stove at Packhorse Hut, 2016

Below is the MSR Whisperlite, this is one of the free standing variety of outdoor cookers. These are much more stable as they usually have wider legs/pot supports arms and have a lower centre of gravity. The downside is the extra weight, these are normally 100-200 gms heavier than a top fixing stove.

MSR Windpro free standing gas stove for tramping

Here is a different version of a canister stove, the Jetboil. A Jetboil is an integrated cooking system with stand, cook pot, burner and canister all in one.  You use a Jetboil to heat water...you cannot cook in these. These stoves are good for alpinists and mountaineers as they are fast (melting snow for water) and pack into quite a small package.

They are also expensive and heavy which is why more trampers, anglers and MTB riders don't use them.

The Jetboil outdoor 'cooking system'


Iso-butane gas canisters are pressurised so the canisters must be made of steel to contain the gas. This means the canisters are heavy. An empty 225ml canister weighs 145gms so that is a lot of wasted weight you have to lug around.

Disposing of empty canisters can be problematic. The empty canisters cannot be recycled in New Zealand unless they are punctured- they need a hole in them to allow residual gas to escape. If not completely empty they are liable to explode during the recycling process.

Various sizes of MSR iso-butane gas: 100gms, 225gms and 550gms canisters

Aside from the weight,  gas canisters can also be expensive- they currently cost from $15-$20 for a medium sized canister. They do not perform well in cold conditions, as the gas can freeze if it is very cold.  If using one in a cold alpine environment it needs to be kept warm in a sleeping bag overnight.

Pros:Easy to use, quick set up, fast heating ability, relatively cheap, moderate heat control, widely available, many different models/makes, three sizes of cannister available in New Zealand

Cons:Fuel canisters are heavy, quite expensive, disposal of empty canisters is problematic, top fixing versions are unstable, not good at high altitude or in cold conditions

Multi-fuel stoves

As the name implies a multi-fuel stove can use a variety of different fuels, this ranges from gas canisters, stove specific fuel, kerosene and even gasoline at a pinch. Some makes will only use liquid fuels while others are able to use both liquid fuel and gas.

The MSR Whisperlite multi fuel hiking stove: Both fuel bottle and gas canister shown
You fill the fuel bottle with your fuel of choice, then turn this into a pressurised gas by pumping the pressure handle. The stove is lit with match, lighter or piezo spark actuator.

Multi-fuel stoves are excellent for alpine conditions as the fuel is not affected by altitude or cold. Their ability to use a multitude of fuels also makes them practical: gasoline is available everywhere in the world while gas canisters are sometimes difficult to locate.

Unfortunately, these stoves tend to be heavy, 300-800 gms as opposed to a gas canister stove at 70-250 gms. They can also be a cast iron bitch to light as the burner unit is prone to soot blockages and fuel impurities. You must use good quality fuel and carry a cleaning kit and use both for optimum performance.


A MSR multi-fuel cooker service kit


I have to say though, there is nothing like the sound of a multi fuel stove blasting away on a cold morning...to a lot of us older trampers it is the sound of tramping itself.


Pros: Able to utilise many different fuels, much hotter flame, better flame/heat control, work well at altitude and in cold conditions, sound awesome when fired up

Cons: Much heavier, more difficult to operate, fuel must be pre warmed and pressurised before use, can be hard to light, more prone to stove blockages

  Methylated - Spirit stoves

  Methyl alcohol or 'spirit stoves' have been around for a long time but have recently been undergoing a resurgence in popularity. Prior to the 1940's this type of stove used jellied fuel and was utilised in the Great War trenches: Luigi, Ivan, Tommy, Mustafah and Fritz all had them.

Reproduction of a World War One "Tommy cooker'


Alcohol stoves can be commercially produced or home-made and have a burner unit with a series of holes in the top and sides. They normally have a stand to hold your pot above the flame and sometimes a wind-shield. Once lit the heating flame will come out of the holes providing the means to cook/ heat water.

 
A Trangia brand outdoor alcohol stove in action

As you can see in the photo below they are quite effective but the do have a number of limitations. The heat put out by methylated spirits is low, so cooking times are much longer. Once lit the flame cannot really be controlled so these stoves are not ideal for simmering.

They are also easily extinguished by wind, you really need a wind shield if using a spirit cooker.


Home-made outdoor alcohol stoves made from aluminium cans

These stoves will use both methylated spirits and de-natured alcohol, which is the American name for a similar product. "Meth's" comes in 1 litre bottles in New Zealand and cost from $6-$10 NZ dollars. Methylated spirits can be found in most service stations, hardware stores and supermarkets.

 De natured alcohol is usually only found in the larger outdoor equipment shops. It costs approximately $10-$20 NZ dollars per 1 litre bottle.

Just use meths' bro....


Methylated Spirits aka Denatured Alcohol
 
Pros: Fuel is cheap and widely available, stoves tend to be quite light, fuel can be used for starting a fire (carefully...don't throw meth's on an existing fire), fuel weight is lower as no heavy gas canister to carry

Cons: Highly inflammable...the vapour only needs a spark to ignite. Not safe for use in huts, easily extinguished by the wind, often need a wind shield and stand for use negating weight savings, care needed when refilling, fuel only comes in 1 litre volumes so there is potential fuel wastage.

Solid fuel tablets- Esbit Stoves

  Solid fuel stoves have been a mainstay of worldwide military forces for most of the later part of the 20th century. There are many firms producing both stoves and fuel including Sea to Summit, Coleman, MSR, Coghlans and cheap 'no brand' versions from China.

The most renown brand of solid fuel stoves are made by the German company Esbit, so in Europe these cookers are called 'Esbit stoves'.

Classic Esbit stove from Germany
 The solid fuel tablets for an Esbit type stove are generally made of a compound called hexamide. Hexamide is highly flammable and hence relatively easy to light. It is basically a solid form of hydro carbon covered in wax to stop it evaporating. One if its downsides are the fumes it exudes: these are both poisonous and foul smelling. 


Classic Esbit fuel cubes- one cube = 12 minutes of burn time

The beauty of solid fuel is that you need no stove...when I was in the military we just used a couple of rocks or sticks to prop our mess tins above the burning fuel cubes.

Oh my god... the smell of a 'hexie' tablet cooking some 'Spag and Snarlers' 'Corned Beef Hash' or 'Meat and Vegetables' is something every ex service person will remember fondly...morning time means hexie time!


Esbit stove, fuel tablets and cookpot, from Esbit website

An Esbit stove is bullet proof: it has no moving parts, requires no servicing and can be stored forever. That's why the military used them for so long.


Esbit type stove in use, from Australian Hiker

Pros:No parts to break, can be stored till the end of time, need no cooker, slow steady heat, relatively light, can be lit when wet, fuel makes excellent fire starter so dual purpose, cheap (a stove and fuel is usually less that $10 NZ dollars.

Cons: Low heat output, noxious fumes, cannot be used indoors, not readily available except in outdoor stores, easily extinguished by wind

Portable wood stoves

One of the newer forms of stove in use are those that use wood as their fuel...much as our ancestors have done for the last 40 000 years. These are commonly aluminium or titanium and burn paper, sticks, leaves and small wood chips. 

There are many commercial versions but these can also be made by the outdoor hobbyist at home.
 These are most often used by survivalists, long trail hikers and in areas where other stove types are banned. I see very few people using them in New Zealand- it is wet here so little dry wood and there are often fire bans in place over summer.

Typical lightweight outdoor wood stove in action


 The beauty of these stoves is that fuel for them is all around you, all the time. They can burn paper, card, wood, coal, dry grasses, dry leaves....basically anything that burns and is dry.

Pros: No need to carry fuel, relatively lightweight, inexpensive if home-made, can be used in most outdoor situations, fold down versions take up little space, environmental impact slight


Cons: They require dry wood,  can get very sooty on the outside, fire risk- cannot be used if there is a fire ban, cannot be used in huts, bulky unless fold down design, commercial versions are expensive

Flameless Ration Heaters or FRH's

Flameless Ration Heaters (or FRH's) are a by-product of military style Meals Ready To Eat (MRE's). MRE's first came into use with the US Army in the late 1980's to replace heavy canned rations. 

US military FRH from a Meals Ready to Eat (MRE)

An MRE (jokingly called, with usual soldierly humour: Meals Rarely Eaten) is a thermo stabilised retort pouch of food, with the addition of various drink powders, snacks, side dishes and accessories.

Flameless Ration Heater: the chemical heater pad in a FRH

 They are a one meal item i.e. you would need to eat three a day to get your recommended calories. The FRH they contain uses a thermo-chemical reaction to warm the main meals and any hot drinks. Most of the military forces of the world are now using these.

A US military MRE: Beef Pasta with Tomato Sauce

FRH's were specific to military circles until about 10 years ago when a number of outdoor companies started to produce them for hikers and campers. Back Country Cuisine are the only indigenous manufacturer of FRH's. You have to be careful with an FRH, these can get really hot to the touch- don't leave them on an unprotected tent floor!

 

A Back Country Cuisine Flameless Ration Heater

In New Zealand the commercial food ranges these FRH's can be used with are Kaweka Meals (also used by the NZ Defence Forces), Sun Rice meals and the MTR range of Indian meals. All of these come in thermo stabilised pouches. Freeze dried meals can also be heated if the contents are rehydrated with cold water first. 

Pros: Very lightweight (less than 20gms each), easy to use, you require no stove/fuel or pot if not heating water, can be used in a well ventilated tent, not affected by cold/wet/windy conditions

Cons:Horrible environmental impact, very slow heating, expensive, limited uses- only good with thermo stabilised retort pouches, hard to source in New Zealand, need salt and a cup of clean water to work

 No heat/no cook tramping 

One way to deal with cooking while tramping is to simply go without. I have meet a number of people practising no cook (or stoveless) tramping. Instead of your traditional hot meal they only utilise cold foods that require no cooking.

Typical 'no cook' foods might include: cold meats, canned fish, cheese, jerky, wraps/tortillas/bread/crackers, various spreads, energy bars, cereals, dried fruit or it could be dehydrated meals reconstituted with cold water.

Basically the sort of stuff you eat for lunch!

Some no-cook menu items: cereals, scroggin, energy bars, tuna, salami, drink powders, dried fruit etc.
I've tried this on an multi night tramp and decided it is not for me.  I like a hot drink in the morning with breakfast and soup and a hot meal at night. In extremis I would go stove-less but not out of choice. That's just my personal opinion by the way...you need to decide what works for you.

I meet a guy on the St James a couple of years ago who had scroggin, whiskey and 24 peanut butter sandwiches for food- he had six sarnies per day- two per meal. Hey...it would keep you going, but....

Do you fancy this at every meal for four days....

Pros: Lightweight (no stove/pot/fuel/cutlery), cheaper option as not buying fuel, stove or cook-pot, easy to sustain yourself for short periods this way

Cons: 24 peanut butter sandwiches......who wants to eat that for 4 days in a row! Will not sustain you properly for more than a couple of weeks, could be unsafe if tramping in adverse weather conditions (hot drinks save hypo-thermic trampers as they used to say...), packaging...there would be a lot of it!

 

My personal choice of tramping stove


I've used all of these various cooker types before but my primary cook stove is a Kovea Backpacker gas cannister stove. I have been using this stove since 1993 with great success and it is still going strong.


The Kovea Backpacker stove...this is the 2016 version

I usually couple this stove with a medium size MSR gas cannister, this combination allows me to boil water for both breakfast and dinner for 4-6 days. This stove cools fast and has a larger diameter burner head which I find advantageous when heating speed is of the essence.

My Kovea Backpacker stove in use at Nina Hut in 2016

 Why gas....? I just find it more convenient to use a cannister stove. You can have it out and going in less than 1 minute. A good breakfast is a fast breakfast if you know what I mean...! Any other type of cooker involves too much buggering around to get it operational.


Fixing dinner with my Kovea tramping stove at Mid Robinson Hut, 2015

If you are going to be using a cannister stove you need a Crunchit. A Crunchit is basically a big can opener which allows you to safely puncture cannisters to vent residual gas. The 'empties' can then be recycled. I leave mine at home and take to my empties after the trip.

The Jetboil Crunchit recycling tool
I also carry two Esbit cubes with me on every trip as an emergency backup. As I said earlier these can be used without a stove and because they only weigh 5 gms each are a useful survival tool. It is not without precedent to run out of gas for your cooker on the last day of a longer trip, so...two meals worth of hot water.


My Esbit cubes: firestarter and emergency cook tool

I have not had cause to use them for about 2 years now.

A gallery of other tramping stoves I own...

I have an Esbit methylated spirits cooker which I will be using when I do some of my longer Te Araroa Trail sections because it is ideal for that kind of tramping. The fuel is cheaper and more readily available in out of the way places.

My Esbit cooker looks like this...

 I inherited a Kovea Hiker stove from one of my brothers who moved to the US, it is an older design but still works well. She is a bit hefty for tramping but folds up into a nifty hard plastic container.I would use this stove if car camping or as a base camp stove.

Kovea Hiker stove, mine does not have a piezo
I also have an Outer Limits Huntsman stove, which I brought when I got back into tramping in 2010. I really like this stove but I just have a sentimental attachment to my Kovea Backpacker so this one doesn't get used very often. 


An Outer Limits Huntsman stand alone stove


I hope that gives you some ideas to consider when choosing a new tramping stove.