Ultralight backpacking geekery: stoves

As a climber, I’m always looking for ways to lighten my pack weight so I can have more energy to go for bigger, more exciting peaks. I’ve always like the idea of alcohol stoves. Their weight is counted in grams not ounces after all. But I never took them seriously because they use considerably more fuel than a basic canister stove. The incredible speed of an even heavier JetBoil or MSR Reactor also made that type of stove an attractive choice.
Then I had a conversation with a couple of alcohol- and esbit-burning stove converts on Friday evening, which got me thinking about them again. I got to pondering the break-even point for stove systems (i.e. when carrying an alcohol stove becomes less weight-efficient than a canister or other option), and before long I was elbows deep in spreadsheets.

Previously, I’d just been calculating total weight of the two systems at the beginning of the trip. I like to have a hot drink in the morning and a hot meal and a hot drink in the evening. This means I’m boiling roughly 48 ounces of water per day. This nets out to roughly 3 ounces of denatured alcohol, 3/4 ounce of iso-butane for a basic canister stove, or 1/2 ounce of iso-butane for a JetBoil. On a four-day trip, the total starting weight of the various systems including fuel is as follows:

Alcohol Stove: 14.25 ounces
Basic Canister Stove: 14 ounces (includes a full 4-ounce canister)
Jetboil Ti Sol: 17.375 ounces (includes a full 4-ounce canister)

See what I mean? Using this calculation, the basic canister stove system wins. Why bother with the slow alcohol stove? 

It finally occurred to me, though, that this comparison didn’t take into account how far you have to carry the weight and the varying rate at which the systems diminished in weight as fuel is burned. For example, even though you have to take more fuel for an alcohol stove, the system’s weight decreases rapidly because it burns so much fuel. I got to thinking that a better way to measure this would be to calculate the “weight-distance” of a stove system. (I readily admit that I may be reinventing the wheel here and this how everyone already compares one system vs. another, but it was such an a-ha moment that I wanted to share just in case no one had thought of it before.)

The calculation would go something like this: If you carry one ounce for one mile, you get a value of one. If you carry one ounce for 10 miles, that’s 10. If you carry 10 ounces one mile, that’s also 10. You can extrapolate this over a period of days based on the base weight of your stove system, amount of fuel you need per day, and your planned hiking distance to give you a total value for the “weight-distance” of a given system for a particular trip.

I played around with spreadsheets this morning and came up with an example of a four day trip. For one person, the weight-distances (in ounces) of the three stove systems would be as follows:

1-person-stove-chartClearly, the alcohol stove is the winner. Under my distance assumptions, it is more than 11 pounds lighter than a basic canister stove system and 26.5 pounds lighter than a JetBoil. That is a lot! 

Spreadsheets are amazing things. What happens if two people are using the stoves, burning twice as much fuel?




All of a sudden, the basic canister stove is the lightest option by more than 12 pounds. Huh!

Finally, I added it all up for a three-person trip, because sometimes you only take two stoves when there are six people on a trip.




The basic canister stove is still lighter, but the JetBoil comes in a close third and will likely be the better option in spite of the weight because of the time required to boil water for three people.

Finally, I added extra days to the solo chart until the numbers flip-flopped and the basic canister setup became more the lightest option. It finally happened when the trip length got to be six days long – two days longer than I originally thought:



These numbers blew me away. What do you think? Does this calculation make sense? Is this how you’ve been calculating weight all along and I’m just now catching up?

Larch love on the Maple Pass loop


Fall in the northwest is extraordinarily beautiful. Nick and I were lucky to be able to share it with his cousin, Ethan, and Ethan’s girlfriend, Giulia, today. Thankfully, the North Cascades didn’t disappoint! The blueberries are almost gone, but the larches are in their prime.

It threatened to snow on us a couple times, but tea and apple cake from Anne took the chill off.

It’s time to stop minimizing self-employment

As I transition to working for a new company today, I’m reflecting on the language people have used when talking to me about working as a self-employed person vs working for a company. After news broke that I’d be transitioning my practice to Reed Longyear, I heard “When do you start work?” My new job was referred to as “gainful employment.” Another person called today my “first day of work.”
All of these phrases subtly minimized the work I was doing as a self-employed person. It suggested that my foray into entrepreneurship was somehow less than working for a company. It was not gainful; it was not work.
I don’t think the people who used these words had ill-intent, or even thought about how cutting and hurtful their language might have been. It is representative, however, of a deeper cultural disregard or diminishment of a self-employed person.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the advice surrounding how to write about self-employment on a resume. One article suggested addressing extenuating circumstances that took you away from your career path. As if running a business wasn’t part of your career? Many others discuss the pitfalls of what a prospective employer might read into a period of self-employment. One article even suggested not listing short periods of self-employment, because it could be seen as a liability.
When we think about our self-employed friends, I want to challenge each of us to be mindful of how we talk to and about their work. Owning and running a successful company (even if the sole “employee” is the owner) is hard work. Harder than showering and showing up at an office to work for someone else. Self-employed people must be entrepreneurial and willing to take risks to achieve great success. They have to work hard to build great relationships with clients and do impeccable work. They seek out challenges. And they likely have experience in many aspects of running a business besides doing the work they promise to clients (e.g. finance, marketing, etc.).
In the end, if they do it right, it will be gainful – both personally and financially.

Matho Tapila Mega Moto Adventure

My new favorite picture of Nick and me

In June, Nick, my dad, Karen, Dave and I undertook our most ambitious motorcycle tour ever. Twelve days, five states, seven national parks, 3100 miles, and only two notable bike issues. Whew!

Highlights included a return to the 99 miles of twisty road leading to Lolo Pass, seeing all sorts of wildlife (moose, buffalo, big horn sheep, grizzly bear, pronghorn, and more), bowls of legendary cheeseburger soup, seeing the Brewery Follies in Virginia City, geysers and thermal springs in Yellowstone NP, showing those WY people how we dance in Seattle, an unexpected visit to a roadside air museum, hilarious entertainment by a singer in Gillette, WY (where Les Canards Sauvages almost got renamed “the water people”), contrasting visits to Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore, meeting an artist whose work was solicited for inclusion in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, walking around Devil’s Tower, prairie dogs, surviving 30+ mph cross-winds, a sobering visit to Little Big Horn, $2 margaritas and evening games of pool, an early morning blast up the Going to the Sun Highway (with no cars!), skinny dipping in Avalanche Lake, rafting the Middle Fork Flathead River, a visit with long-time family friends in Sandpoint, ID (dinner at a floating restaurant!), twisting the throttle through some of Washington’s best roads, being met by riding friends (Mark and Laura) in Winthrop on our last night, and surviving the final day’s ride home.

We live in an amazing country, and I’m so glad I get to experience it on two wheels with friends and family. Watch the slideshow below to see some of the visual highlights. (The arrow in the lower right corner will embiggen it.) Additional pictures by my dad are here.


Assortment | 3

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP

I’m buried in photos from my motorcycle trip in June, an impromptu trip to Dublin, and a few hikes, climbs, and overnight bike adventures in between. Thankfully, while the rest of the world is out adventuring, gear manufacturers are hard at work in Friedrichshafen and Salt Lake City, showcasing drool-worthy new gear for adventures to come. Some of it is available today, and some of it will arrive in stores this winter. Here’s a few of my favorites.

roof-top camperWhite Lightning Hard Shell roof-top camper. You can put racks on top of this low-profile camper so you can carry your bikes, surfboard, kayak, or whatever and have a comfy place to sleep. (At $3800, it’s pricey, but if you preorder this for delivery in the fall, you can save $500.)

pocket cleatsThese ultralight Pocket Cleats look like the first decent alternative to microspikes. At only 5.6 ounces per pair, that’s half the weight of the alternative. Oh, and did I mention they’re $10 cheaper, too?! It’s hard to imagine buying winter traction in August, but they may be hard to come by this winter.

There are a lot of portable espresso makers out there. Reviews are mixed, however, on the quality of the espresso produced. The Caflano All-in-One Coffee Maker looks like it could possibly make the world’s most perfect, fresh cup of drip coffee. A little adjustable grinder nests inside a mesh drip filter. Coffee drips into an insulated thermal mug. You’ve got to see the video to appreciate just how slick this thing is.

ATCBlack Diamond is releasing an upgraded ATC belay device. I don’t know anything about it, but it looks right sexy.

nano air lightAnd when the Patagonia Nano Air Light comes out, you can bet I’ll be buying one for super cold cross-country ski days. It looks like the existing Nano Air Jacket, but with hybridized panels for extra breath- ability – perfect for high-exertion activities in winter.

One helmetBolle has also introduced The One Helmet, a bike helmet I think I pretty much need to have. It’s got removable areo shells (okay, I don’t really need this), a built in LED safety light, interchangeable liners for summer and winter, a removable visor, and a “sunglasses garage” to hold your glasses when you want to take them off mid-ride.

Finally, if all this gear didn’t make you go glassy-eyed, Will Gadd’s article on overcoming fear is fantastic. Lean into it, analyze/learn from it, and when you decide to go for it, really commit.