Saturday, September 22, 2012

AT Gear Reviews: Cooking

These posts will be to review any and everything that I carried with me on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Some things worked for me, some did not. Hopefully this will help someone with questions about what you need to be comfortable and safe on the trail. The things I carried may not work for you, but they just might. Some gear is dirt cheap, some I made myself, some gear is pricey. This is what worked for me.
I decided to go with a lightweight system for the trail because I knew I was not going to be doing a lot of "cooking". Most of what I was doing was heating up or rehydrating food. Seldom did I ever require any kind of extended boil for my food. This was a conscious decision on my part to keep everything simple and fuss free.

Stove: Super Cat Alcohol Stove
I have tried a lot of stoves from the Whisperlites, to the Trangia Burner and more. When I found out how simple the Super Cat was to make, use, and pack I was sold. It doubles as a pot stand, weighs NOTHING (0.25 oz.) and has no moving parts. Pour in alcohol, light, and wait. It has its limitations but it worked well for me. I even stepped on mine once or twice and was able to bend it back into place with limited damage. Not indestructible but tough enough with a little care. In colder temperatures and windy conditions, the efficiency is compromised but with a good windscreen and a little care you'll be ok. If interested visit for more information than you could ever need about a cat food can.

Stoves I Would use: Jetboil Ti or Zip
The advantage of a canister stove is efficiency and speed. The fuel canisters if used correctly can last up to 2 weeks. The cook system as a whole weighs a bit more but cooks faster and is less effected by wind and weather. If cooking for two this is a much better solution. By the end of a thru-hike you would have probably spent roughly the same amount on fuel between alcohol and canisters. Another small advantage is that there always seems to be a 3/4 empty can of fuel sitting in a hiker box or shelter from someone scared that the fuel wouldn't last until the next town stop. But denatured alcohol is easy to come by in every town I stopped in. You can also use HEET or everclear. Just dont end up drinking your fuel.

Another system I like is a pot of your choice paired with the Caldera Cone cooking system. I've seen a few in action and they perform great and are very fuel efficient for an alcohol stove. If you already have a pot you like, the people at Trail Designs will make you a Caldera Cone specifically made for your pot. Excellent price and performance.

Pot: AntiGravityGear 3 Cup Aluminum Non-Stick Cook Pot
This was a simple decision. Light, cheap, and a non-stick coating that really helped with clean up of dried mac & cheese. I liked the pot to be wider than it was tall so it was more efficient on the stove. A common mistake I saw all too many alcohol stove users making. The pot held up great and I probably cooked close to 150+ meals on it plus countless cups of water for coffee. You can see the marks on the bottom of the pot from my stove. You could buy a fancy titanium pot with handles and a lid that doubles as a skillet. You could buy a bigger pot and make huge pots of ramen. I wouldn't. This pot is perfect for any solo trip and the price is right. I ate out of the pot with a little help from my homemade cozy and I highly suggest this to anyone in the market for a new pot. You can even buy this as a set with a cozy and pot gripper that altogether weighs 6oz and is only $20!! Buy it NOW!!


Fuel Bottle from AntiGravity Gear. 8oz capacity. With careful filling I could cook one meal and make coffee for 7 days on 8oz. Next time I would pack a small measuring cup and be more rigid on how much fuel I use at a time. You could bring also bring an empty soda bottle (8-20oz) like some people do. Works just as good. Just don't reach into your pack and take a swig of fuel.
Pot Cozy: MYOG. I am a big fan of bringing my food to a boil and then putting it into a cozy and then going about my other camp chores. The cozy keeps the heat in to cook the food while you're setting up your tent, getting water and changing into warm clothes. It saves fuel and is simpler than cooking food for longer periods of time. You can make one for a few dollars and it will fit your pot perfectly. One cozy lasted the entire 5 month trek, unexpectedly. Packing it in and out of your pack will eventually tear it up. Thank god for duct tape.

I still love coffee in the backcountry. From the expensive VIA's to the cheap instant stuff. It worked. It helped me get out of bed and get moving. So I carried a cup. This was also good for hot chocolate and mixing drinks or drinking beers in town. My cup also served as a measuring cup for water to cook with. I liked how it collapsed and my whole system fit together in my pot. Another cool product i've never seen before as an alternative to bringing a cup would be to get a set of HotLips and drink out of your pot. Good idea!

The windscreen I used was an 8" Trail Designs Windscreen and it surprisingly held up until the very end! I had cut the 8" version in half and folded it day in and day out for 5 months and the condition it is in the picture up top is how it looked after the trail. I would highly recommend this to anyone using an alcohol stove. One because it's a necessity, and two because its cheap and does everything it says it will.

And finally the ubiquitous Spork. Everyone has one on the trail. Most of the time they have the Light My Fire Spork, I hate that one. It's ugly, and they break all the time. Almost every outfitter along the trail has them and they're usually around $4. I dare someone to try and scoop peanut butter for 5 months without breaking one. Probably the best $0.79 I spent on the trail was on the Sea To Summit Spork. It's cheap, light and awesome. You can buy a titanium spork for $25 or buy 25 of these and I promise you wont care if you lose all but one of these. I would be upset if I spent the money on a titanium version and lost it, which i'm likely to do. FInd one of these at your local outfitter and buy 5. Mine has over 2000 miles on it. I think i've got my moneys worth.

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