“Did you also bring you’re BioLite?”
“No, because I figured you would.”
— A conversation I had 3 times this year.
Must get new gadget
In December of 2011, I stumbled on a little gadget that was being introduced. It was a camping stove fueled by twigs and other small cast-off materials, used a fan to make burning more effecient, and most importantly, didn’t need installed batteries because – get this – it used the thermal energy created to charge the internal battery. AND it stored the excess power so you can even use it to charge your electric peripherals (camera, batteries, cell phone etc.). All this in a unit as big as a large water bottle. I had to get one.
Barrel packs are a relatively new phenomenon, compared to canoe packs, wanigans and such, but they’ve become an extremely popular choice among canoe campers and portagers. It’s got to the point where those blue barrels are referred to as “Canoe Barrels”, even though a lot of them may have been used for some other reason before they reached the lakes. Strap one on your back and people know right away that you’re going canoeing, and not backpacking or just off car camping somewhere. (Often people who are unfamiliar with them will call them “Bear Barrels”, implying keeping your food safe from bears. They’re not. See below.)
Why so popular? That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked.
What are they?
Really? You’ve never seen one before? Okay, well Barrel packs are basically a harness that is designed to hold a barrel like you would a backpack. The harnesses have evolved over the years with added features available that make carrying a barrel on your back almost as comfortable as a regular backpack. You can find harnesses with padding for your back and shoulders pads, hip belts as well as load adjuster and sternum straps.
Do you know why everyone loves going on portaging trips with me? The exotic locations? Good looks? Charming personality? Funny stories? Gratuitous nudity? Sadly, no. You know what it really is? I make good, good coffee. I mentioned in a previous review the first half of my secret, but the second is by using a french press, and the one I’ve been using lately is the GSI Outdoors Java Press.
Also, I’m kidding about the nudity.
Why a press?
I like my coffee, and I like it good. Having good coffee at the campfire is no exception. In fact, one of my favourite parts of portaging is sitting back, reflecting on the day with a nice warm coffee. It’s a nice moment. So you can imagine those moments are better with a quality cup of coffee, and over the years I’ve tried many different ways to brew a cup. I’ve filtered, dripped and used instant (bleh!) and I’ve even tried Cowboy Coffee, where coffee grinds are thrown into hot water, leaving the grinds to settle on their own. The latter is actually the better of those options, but much more messy, and more often than not leaves you spitting out grinds. Filters are okay, but paper seems wasteful and take away a lot of the oils that really make the coffee taste best. Permanent filters tend to have expanding or clogged pores after a while, and I haven’t found one that isn’t unnecessarily bulky or just breaks. I’ve concluded through a lot of trial and error that the French Press is the way to make the best cup of coffee.
I’ve been using the JavaGrind coffee grinder for quite a few years now, and I have to tell you, if you like good coffee, this piece of gear is essential. Full disclosure: I may come across as a bit of a coffee snob.
What we don’t often think about, just a few generations ago there was no such thing as freeze dried, ready to brew coffee – nevermind “instant”. It didn’t come in big tins with factory sealing, and wasn’t filled with chemical preservatives we’ve all come to accept as normal. This is all to keep coffee fresh tasting. What’s better than fresh tasting? Fresh. What did they do back in the day for coffee? They took un-roasted (green) coffee beans, roasted enough for a serving over the campfire, ground them up on the spot and made themselves a cup of camp coffee. Sound familiar? Why that’s exactly the way of current trendy coffee connoisseurs – brew fresh, per serving. Suddenly there isn’t much difference between a guy who calls himself a “barista” and that old prospector living on the side of a mountain seasons at a time (although often they have the same haircut).
What I like about it
When I started to use whole beans, ground just before brewing, I never went back to pre-ground coffee. To better my camp coffee experience I tried to grind coffee the night before a trip, so that it was as fresh as possible, and while it was still better than something you buy in a tin, after a few days the coffee wasn’t as good. When I stumbled upon the JavaGrind, I was very eager to try it. It’s a compact grinder that holds about 350ml (1.5 cups) of coffee beans. It weighs in at 315 g, but more like 415 g with beans. Just fill it up, slide the lid closed and you’re ready to go. To keep it more compact, the grinder handle comes off and turned upside down folds nicely over the side.
How to use it
A few days ago, I got into some conversations about those butane canisters for camp stoves, and wrote a post about it. I’ve been phasing them out on my trips, and have been actively encouraging others to do the same. One question I couldn’t answer at the time was when properly handed over to a local waste management center, what happens to those canisters?
My worry was that because of the gas inside, the canisters would simply be labeled as hazardous waste and just be buried “somewhere”, meaning the metal wouldn’t be recycled. So I sent an email to my local waste management center asking about it. Instead of an email, I got a call from the Supervisor of Waste Management, as he felt it would be easier to discuss over the phone, and give me the ability to ask further questions. I was pleasantly surprised with the information he provided me.
The good news is that the metal of these canisters does get recycled. From the waste centers, they get transported to a processor, who hooks up the non-refillable fuel containers so that the gas can be removed, then the metal gets recycled as it normally would. The better/unexpected news is that the gas and fuel that is extracted is also used. Who knew? Since I had him on the phone, I figured I’d bring up a couple of other questions.
First, he made very clear that you shouldn’t just throw your fuel containers in your normal recycling as you would with other metals. Because of the gas, they won’t take it, and in my area you get a little no-no sticker – the recycling opposite of getting a gold star. You should instead take your canisters to your local waste management center that takes household hazardous waste. I then asked about the canister recycling tools that they sell and whether or not the canisters would be accepted in regular recycling after being treated. (The tool basically vents then punctures the canister to allow the gas to escape.) I was told that while they may in BC, they do not in Ontario, and does not recommend the use of these tools. I can understand that. How would they know the gas hasn’t been removed properly. And besides, if the fuel is collected and reused, no sense just wasting it. (As a minor but valid point, he also mentioned that you should be careful where and how you release the gas for your own safety.)
Of course this is all information based on Hamilton (Ontario), so I can’t speak for all municipalities, but I’m happy to hear all this. And just as I said in my last post, I’d still rather use a refillable gas solution (“Reuse”) but it’s nice to know using butane canisters isn’t as harmful as I suspected it may have been (“Recycle”) – and I’m still going to look further into some less impactful options (“Reduce”).
I really don’t like sounding like a grumpy old man, but every now and then a subject comes up where you have a list of complaints about and you just can’t help the way it sounds. Funny, but for a guy who thinks of himself as quite the opposite of grumpy, I do have a few of these subjects that get me grabbing my cane and waving it at the kids on my lawn. Today was one of those days, when I found myself discussion butane canisters on facebook with Christine from Camp Smarts. I was simply writing what I didn’t like about butane canisters, ran out of room with my comment, and figured I’d write it out a lot easier here (and introduce it by saying I’m not a grumpy old man).
UPDATE: I found out what happens to those gas canisters when you send them to your local waste management center.
First, I should probably mention I don’t hate butane canisters I regularly use them myself. They’re compact and easy to use. You just screw on your camp stove and you’re ready to go. No filling up, no priming, no fuel spills, and you can buy them at pretty much any outdoor store. For some stoves, the canister can even act as a stand to make it a little lighter and more compact. Oh, and I’ll keep using the term “butane”, but I also mean propane or any of the non-refillable fuel containers.
#1 Enabling the Jerks:
The first reason is actually not the fault of the canisters, rather an example of how jerky behaviour gives something a bad name. The problem is that too many people are disposing of the butane canisters by simply chucking them in the woods. The problem is that they don’t burn, so people can’t just toss them into a fire and forget them. They also don’t sink, so you can’t just dump them in the lake. They don’t crush up either, so stomping them into the ground behind some bushes doesn’t really work either. This is a litterer’s worst nightmare – there’s a lot of effort in casting off these things out of sight. So what do you do? Throw them into the outhouse of course. I’m a little saddened how many times I come across this. Less gross, but I’m sure just as annoying, I’ve also come across a couple of situations where there was a pile of canisters left at campsites, all different types and ages. People see the pile and figure that’s what you do with them. Somebody will just come by and take them. This is why Ontario Parks no longer sells non-refillable fuel canisters at the park stores, strongly discourages you from using them, and is regularly considering banning them entirely. You would too if you were the one you has to go in there and get them out, especially when considering from where you might have to get them.
What To Look For:
Anything you bring portaging should be as light as possible, compactable, durable and resist water, and the sleeping bag you choose is no different. The dilemma as always is paying the price for the ideal, or saving some money at the expense of something you can live with. That said, try to steer clear of ones that are too heavy, overly bulky or that don’t have some kind of water resistant outer layer. You’ll also want to make sure it’s durable. Many people roll their bags and latch it to the outside of their packs to save space, increasing the likelihood of a tear – which can completely ruin a trip. Consider getting a compression sack, as it will greatly reduce the size of the bag.
There are enough sleeping bag choices to make you go crazy – material, style, construction, fill, loft, temperature rating etc. To make it easier, you may want to speak to someone at a knowledgeable outdoor store and explain to them what you will be using the sleeping bag for and what qualities you feel you need and those you can deal without. (eg. “I can deal with a heavy bag, but I can’t stand a cold sleep.”)
Why You Need It:
It gets cold at night even in the summer, and an unexpected cold spell can be extremely uncomfortable without a sleeping bag. Remember that even if you think you can do without it, sleeping bags can be a useful first aid tool to get your body temperature regulated quickly.
I love these things. Compression sacks are handy bags that you stuff full of compressible materials (clothes, sleeping bags etc.) then yank on the built in straps to shrink them into a tiny little ball. It saves so much space – often a quarter or more of it’s size – and it also saves you from having to fold and pack.
What To Look For:
Another item that you get what you pay for, check the durability of the material and the straps. I prefer the cylindrical style (as opposed to rounded) because they fit in your pack better.
Why You Need It:
Space is precious for portageurs and backpackers. Compression sacks add greatly to your available space. At the very least you should get one for your sleeping bag because they take up a lot of space and compact significantly. You can also get one for other items, like towels, clothes and any other fabric items. You can go two ways: buy one bigger sack that will hold everything or a couple for different items. I prefer the second option. I have a small sack for my clothes and another for my sleeping bag, because two sacks are easier to pack into a cranny in my pack. When I go to sleep, I loosen the smaller sack so it’s not too tight and use it as a pillow.
What To Look For:
Anything that carries your gear comfortably will get you by portaging, but there are advantages to specific types of packs. Backpacker style packs will be the most comfortable, being designed to carry the most gear with the most comfort. They’re made with internal frames and usually have lots of neat little nooks and pockets to store gear in different accessible spots. These will do you fine, especially if that’s all you have. Their disadvantage is that they are not designed for canoe travel, and are rarely water proof. There are however, many specific types of packs for canoes, each type being designed to fit inside and get into and out of a canoe easily.
First, is the traditional canoe pack. It is a big, square shaped (usually canvass) pack that is strapped to your back and often has a tump line to fit on your forehead for added support. These are based on the old heavy wooden pan boxes used earlier in the century, deriving from voyageur sacks, them being adapted from the aboriginal carrying methods. (These are options too, if you’re up for it). The benefit to these are the cost (sometimes) the space and the durability. They are not the most comfortable though.
Next there are the water tight packs which ride on your back like a backpack with the more common shoulder straps. The benefit of these are that they are like having a giant dry bag and will usually float after a spill keeping everything dry. However, these too are not as comfortable as a backpack.
Finally, there is the barrel pack – the new pack of choice of most portageurs. This is a harness that holds a barrel in which to put all your gear. It has the same advantages of both the water tight and canoe packs, and it will definitely float. It’s also the most durable. Some will tell you it’s also bear proof, but while I would imagine it might be more resistant than the other options, nothing short of metal is really bear proof.
What To Look For:
Most Provinces and States require that every boat – including canoes – to have a boat safety kit of some kind. You may want to check with the park you’re visiting to make sure you comply to the local laws. Usually, a canoe safety kit requires a bailer, a whistle (pealess), a flashlight (waterproof) and a heaving line with a float. Usually you can get everything in a small self contained/water tight container that doubles as the bailer for about $10.
Why You Need It:
Aside from the fact that it makes good sense, if you don’t have one and you meet up with a ranger, you’ll get a fine.
How You Can Live Without It: