experimenting with the fancy feast alcohol stove

I currently use an MSR Pocket Rocket and think it's a great canister stove; however, I'm not that crazy about the IsoPro fuel canisters, which can be hard to find and are inconvenient for measuring the amount of fuel they contain.

Switching to an alcohol stove would make it easier to find fuel and easier to keep track of the amount of fuel I have left at any given time. As my friend Raymond Eubanks, Esq., pointed out, it would also allow me to take only the necessary amount of fuel for a trip. With a canister stove, I have to take the same size canister for an overnight that I do for five nights.

Since I'm new to alcohol stoves, I thought I'd keep my first attempt simple and cheap. Making a Fancy Feast cat food can stove is as simple and cheap as it gets, and it weighs only 0.2 oz. (a lot lighter than my 3 oz. Pocket Rocket).

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
Fancy Feast cat food can stove

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
Fancy Feast stove and GSI Minimalist 0.6L pot

Here's the stove in action.

As you can see, the flames jetting from the side holes of the stove are overshooting the bottom of my GSI Minimalist 0.6L pot. This is because the Fancy Feast stove itself is 2.5 inches in diameter and my mug-sized pot is not much bigger at 3.5 inches in diameter.

This made me wonder if it would be more effective to focus the flame on the bottom of my pot by propping it above the stove with tent stakes.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
Fancy Feast stove, tent stakes and GSI Minimalist 0.6L pot

Here's the stove in action with the pot raised.

I compared the performance of both stove arrangements by filling the stove with fuel (up to its lower row of holes) and boiling 0.5L of water in my GSI pot. I did this test indoors to keep the environment constant.

The pot sitting directly on the stove boiled water in 6 minutes and burned fuel for 10.5 minutes. The pot propped on tent stakes above the stove boiled water in 5.5 minutes and burned fuel for 7.5 minutes.

Setting the pot directly on the stove took 30 seconds longer to boil water but extended the fuel burn by 3 minutes. It's also the simpler of the two setups. The only problem remaining was that the 32-hole Fancy Feast stove (two rows of 16 holes) overwhelmed my 0.6L pot with flames. To reduce the flame, I made an 18-hole stove with 12 holes on the top row and 6 holes on the bottom row.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
18-hole Fancy Feast stove for small, 0.6L pot

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
18-hole Fancy Feast stove in action

I tested this new stove under the same conditions as the previous two. The flame output was perfect for the pot. It boiled water in 6.5 minutes and burned fuel for an impressive 16.5 minutes.

After messing around with the Fancy Feast stove, my Pocket Rocket looks like overkill. Since I simply heat water rather than cook on solo trips (and then only about a half a liter of water at a time), this little 18-hole alcohol stove looks like it might be a perfect fit.


weighing some water bottles

In this post I compare the weights of four water bottles and one water bladder.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

Bottle Weights for 1 Liter

1L Platypus bottle
0.8 oz
1L Dasani bottle
0.9 oz
1L Aquafina bottle
1.3 oz
1L Smartwater bottle
1.3 oz

Bottle/Bladder Weights for 3 Liters

3L Platypus Hoser bladder capped and carried as a bottle (without the 2.1 oz drinking hose)
1.7 oz
3 x 1L Platypus bottle
2.4 oz
3 x 1L Dasani bottle
2.7 oz
3L Platypus Hoser bladder with drinking hose
3.8 oz
3 x 1L Aquafina bottle
3.9 oz
3 x 1L Smartwater bottle
3.9 oz


The Dasani bottle is the clear standout here, being just about as light as the more expensive Platypus bottle. However, the Platypus does have the advantage of being collapsible when empty. The Aquafina and Smartwater bottles are about 50% heavier than the Dasani and Platypus, but they do feel slightly more durable.

Three 1L Aquafina or Smartwater bottles weigh about the same as my 3L Platypus Hoser bladder with the drinking hose attached. It's interesting to note that the drinking hose of my Platypus Hoser weighs more than the bladder itself. I like having the option of capping off the bladder and leaving the drinking hose behind. By capping off my 3L bladder and using a 1L Dasani for drinking, I can carry 4L of water in 2.6 oz of container weight. That's 0.65 oz of container weight per liter of water.

Finally, all four of these bottles and the bladder have the same cap size, which is convenient when using a combination of them for heavier water hauls. (I should add that the thread pattern of the Dasani cap is slightly different than the other three brands, which have identical thread patterns, but it does cap the other bottles relatively well when a little force is applied.)


how i pack a smaller load in the smd starlite

The most common criticism of the Six Moon Designs Starlite backpack is that it's a large pack that lacks an adequate compression system for smaller loads.

After experimenting with stuffing my uncompressed quilt in the bottom of the pack and loading gear that I would normally carry in the outer mesh pockets into the main pack to fill up more of its volume, I settled on an approach that lets me keep my quilt compressed and my gear in the mesh pockets.

The Starlite's compression cord is located on the front of the pack and works by pulling the sides of the pack in toward the middle front of the pack. By angling the two sides toward the middle in this way, the footprint of the pack takes on a more triangular, or trapezoidal, shape. I've found that building a smaller load into a triangular shape against the back panel of the pack works best for me.  

Here are some photos to help you see what I'm talking about.

Layer 1: pack liner; compressed quilt loaded vertically in the middle of the pack; rolled mid-layer loaded vertically on the right against the back panel; socks, balaclava, and insulation vest loaded on the left against the back panel.

Layer 2: water bottle loaded on the left against the back panel; cooking kit and food sack loaded middle right; rain shell loaded middle front.

Mesh Pockets: tent fly, stakes, and ground cloth in the long pocket on left; ditty bag in the upper right; water bottle in the lower right.

Base Weight: 9.6 lb.


hiking in finland interviews

I recently stumbled upon this collection of interviews with ultralight and lightweight backpacking cottage industry folks. I'm so glad that the author, Hendrik Morkel, asks about their base weight and favorite gear.


six moon designs starlite backpack

The SMD Starlite is an ultralight backpack that's been around for several years and has evolved over time. Considering its longevity, I was surprised to find so few reviews of it online. The most helpful reviews I found include its coverage in "Lightweight Frameless Backpacks State of the Market Report 2011" by Will Rietveld on Backpacking Light, the 2008 review from Section Hiker, and the following 2011 video from Only the Lightest/ Hike Light.

To these reviews, I'll add my own reasons for choosing the Starlite and my first hands-on impression of the pack.


I weighed the three components of my Starlite with a Brecknell model 311 digital scale. Here are the results.

Pack body: 19.5 oz.
Hip belt with pockets: 5.2 oz.
Aluminum stay: 4.4 oz.


The removable hip belt and aluminum stay make three pack configurations possible:
  1. Pack without belt or stay (19.5 oz)
  2. Pack with belt but without stay (24.7 oz)
  3. Pack with belt and stay (29.1 oz)
The first configuration rides comfortably with my sub-10 lb base weight and a 16 lb initial pack weight.

For initial pack weights over 16 lbs, I add the hip belt for a more comfortable carry. The belt also takes most of the pressure off the shoulder straps, which are attached to the back panel with a Velcro strap that makes the pack adjustable to the user's torso length. According to a few other Starlite users, this Velcro strap can support over 20 or even 30 lbs on its own, so I'm not concerned about a strap failure.

If my initial pack weight will exceed 25 lbs, I add the aluminum stay as well. While I rarely approach a 25 lb pack weight, I did test a water-heavy 31.2 lb initial pack weight with an overnight hike in the Joshua Tree backcountry. During the hike in with this load, the Starlite felt solid, stable, and as comfortable as 30 lbs on my back would likely feel. The next morning, I hiked out with about 23 lbs (8 lbs fewer consumables--mostly water), which was very comfortable in the Starlite. The aluminum stay would come in handy on the PCT through-hike I hope to do one year. With a 17 lb base weight rating and a 35 lb max load rating, the Starlite would make a capable through-hiking pack.

SMD Starlite, front

SMD Starlite, back
aluminum stay


It's this potential through-hike that led me to a larger capacity bag like the Starlite. I also wanted to have room to pack my sleeping pad rather than lash it to the outside of the pack. My standard gear fills 25-30 L, my sleeping pad fills 9 L, and my consumables typically fill 5-10 L; therefore, I was looking for a 40-50 L bag. The Starlite has a 49 L main bag, a 6.5 L extension collar, and 13 L in external mesh pockets. With a 49 L main bag, I can leave the extension collar for overflow consumables and the mesh pockets for water bottles and wet/dirty gear.

The compression system does a fair job of reducing the overall bag capacity around a small but tall and narrow load. The small load should be tall and narrow because the compression cord pulls the sides of the pack in toward the middle of the pack until the side mesh pockets fold over the center mesh pocket, covering it completely. Compressing the pack to its maximum cuts off access to the center mesh pocket, but it does reduce the main pack volume by about 30% based on my informal estimate. If volume reduction is a priority, you can find more effective compression systems on other packs.

no compression
max compression
compressed 16 lb pack weight 


Even though I'm pretty careful with my gear, I like the 210 denier Dyneema Diamond ripstop used for the pack bag and the 420 denier pack cloth used in high-wear areas. The mesh pocket material feels coarse and fairly tough as well.


Finally, here are a few features I like enough to highlight.

The dry-sack bag closure is unique, and it's a refreshing alternative to the standard drawstring. With other packs, I always feel the need to slip the drawstring into the bag after I close it so that it doesn't dangle outside the pack. The lip of the main bag is lined with a 1/2 inch wide Velcro strip, so you'll have to hear that Velcro sound every time you open your pack.

pack top open
pack top closed

The suspension pocket for my sleeping pad is recessed into the body of the main pack via the back panel and lets me remove my pad without disturbing the other contents of my pack. This makes stretching out for a midday rest a lot more convenient.

back panel sleeping pad pocket

The external mesh pockets are a generous size, and they are arranged in a pretty unique and useful way. I keep miscellaneous quick-access items in the upper side pocket, and I'm able to roll up my tent in a ground cloth and slip it neatly in the long side pocket.

Starlite with 31 lb load


joshua tree backcountry

Sun setting against the rocks
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
GoLite Shangri-La 1 tent fly & Gossamer Gear polycryo ground cloth
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App


santa rosa mtn.

Hiked up to Santa Rosa Mountain via Sawmill Trail, the connector trail, and Santa Rosa Road (7S02).

On Sawmill, I came up on a rattlesnake too quickly. He rattled, coiled back into strike position. He didn't strike. I withdrew. He slowly moved off the trail. That was the closest call I've had with a rattlesnake.

As close a call as that rattlesnake encounter was, it didn't freak me out as much as seeing my first Jerusalem cricket. I had to Google a description of this thing to find out what it was. All I knew at the time was that it was bright orange, black and white, and as big as my thumb--and I have big thumbs.

Jerusalem cricket

Since I wasn't able to find much info on water sources before this hike, I'll post what I found in mid-September.

The first water source I found was about five miles up, at the end of Sawmill. You'll see an old stone kiln to the right and the Sawmill extension road to your left. Head up the extension road for a bit until you see the old log splitter. In the middle of the field to the right of the log splitter, you'll find a black hose with running water. After you tank up, head back down the extension and bear left onto the connector trail.

Sawmill kiln

The second water source I found was about three miles farther up the mountain. After hiking the connector trail, continue straight down Santa Rosa Road to the campground. Someone snapped the faucet off the pipe, so the water was shooting straight up. However, I was able to catch water in a wide-mouth cup. You'll have to hike back up the road and past a string of yellow-post campsites to reach Santa Rosa peak.

Santa Rosa peak seen from the connector trail

A view from Santa Rosa Mtn.