The Stove Debate: Canister vs. Liquid Fuel

Stoves are a vital piece of equipment for any camping, backpacking, or paddling trip. There are a variety of options available, including those that operate with propane, isobutane, white gas, alcohol, solid fuel, or wood. So, how do you determine which one is best for your purposes? In comparing the two most common options, isobutane-powered canister and liquid fuel-powered camp stoves, we’ve put together a list to help you narrow down your choices:

Courtesy: MSR
Courtesy: MSR

Canister Stoves

Examples: MSR PocketRocket 2, MSR SuperFlyJetboil MightyMo

Pros:

  • Size: Canister stoves are very small and are often just the right size to pack within a pot, sometimes along with their canister.
  • Weight: These stoves are extremely lightweight. The PocketRocket weighs in at 2.6 ounces—more than four times less than the liquid-fuel WhisperLite.
  • Convenience: Canister stoves are simple to use. There are only two components: the stove itself and the fuel canister. Screw them together, turn the fuel valve, ignite, and cook!
  • Minimal maintenance: These stoves operate for years without needing much maintenance.
  • Energy efficiency: Generally speaking, with all things equal, a canister stove is more efficient than a liquid fuel stove.

Cons:

  • Temperature: Canisters come with “four season” mixes, but their effectiveness drops significantly when temperatures go below freezing. Inverted canister designs, however, mitigate this issue somewhat.
  • Stability: Most canister stoves are top heavy. However, many use only the canister as the base, which raises a stability concern when boiling a heavy pot of water. Stands are available, such as the MSR Universal Canister Stand, to increase stability. Others, like the MSR WindPro, use an inverted canister design that is inherently more stable.
  • Volume: Aside from selecting canisters in a few different sizes, you’re stuck with a set amount and can’t customize it based on the trip. As well, if one canister is almost empty, you’ll need to supplement it with another full one.
Courtesy: MSR
Courtesy: MSR

Liquid Fuel Stoves

Examples: MSR WhisperLite, MSR XGK EX, MSR Dragonfly

Pros:

  • Temperature: These stoves operate well in a wide temperature range, including well below freezing.
  • Fuel sources: Many liquid fuel stoves are able to utilize multiple fuel types, depending on the model. The standard is white gas, but some can also operate on gasoline, kerosene, and diesel. This adaptability makes this stove ideal for travel in foreign countries, where canisters are not readily available.
  • Stability: Liquid fuel stove designs are inherently more stable than conventional canister ones, with the exception of inverted canisters.
  • Fuel cost: Liquid fuel stoves often have higher upfront costs but will use less fuel, and thus cost less, with time. For example, using MSR’s efficiency measures and MSR fuels as price points (canister and liquid), $1 of canister fuel will boil 2.7L, while $1 of liquid fuel will boil 3.2L.
  • Less waste: Liquid fuel bottles are reusable. So, even though canisters are recyclable, liquid fuel’s waste tends to be less pervasive.

Cons:

  • Size: Liquid fuel stoves are much larger than their canister competitors.
  • Weight: These stoves are also significantly heavier.
  • Maintenance: Liquid fuel stoves have moving parts and O-rings that require oiling and occasional replacement. Maintenance is not demanding, but it is something you don’t have to worry about with canister stoves.
  • Set-up: When you start them up, these stoves require “priming,” a process that is more involved than simply screwing a canister onto a stove.

The Middle Ground

Compared to the MSR WindPro, which combines a canister stove’s benefits with a liquid fuel stove’s low profile, the MSR WhisperLite Universal is a hybrid. It allows you to plug in an inverted canister or a bottle of liquid fuel, adding even more versatility to your meal preparation.

The Bottom Line

Many experienced backpackers use a canister stove for short trips in warm weather (i.e., above freezing), especially when they only plan to boil water for meals. However, they’ll use liquid fuel stoves for any journeys that are longer than three days, take place below freezing, or demand cooking beyond boiling water.

Courtesy: MSR
Courtesy: MSR

Essential Gear for Kayak Touring

Kayaks create opportunities along bays, lakes, and rivers that allow us to experience the outdoors in a completely unique way. Gliding quietly through placid waters by rhythmically paddling can be meditative and brings us closer to wildlife that would typically feel threatened by hiking’s comparatively loud noises.

Of course, kayaking presents its own set of challenges and considerations. Although a significant amount of backpacking gear translates well to kayak touring, a number of kayak-specific pieces and concepts are necessary when you’re preparing for an extended amount of time on the water.

A word about touring kayaks: Storage requirements are a primary consideration when selecting the right vessel for a multi-day trip. A 12-foot, closed cockpit kayak offers enough storage for a weekend trip. With packable gear and food, a 16-foot kayak can handle enough supplies for a week-long trip.

Keep in mind that these are guidelines, and that paddler and gear weight, camping style, food selection, and paddling conditions all play a role in trip duration. Closed cockpit boats with hatches protect your gear from water and prevent gear loss if your kayak capsizes. Touring kayaks often come with a skeg to assist with tracking or a rudder to assist with both tracking and changing direction. While you can tour with a boat that has neither, a paddler with a skeg or rudder uses less energy in maintaining direction, especially in windy conditions.

Credit: Joseph Lasky

Safety

First and foremost, any amount of time paddling requires safety gear. Personal flotation devices are required by law in many places and are a universal best practice. Additionally, here some necessary items to properly outfit a paddle trip:

  • Bilge pump: Durable and easy to use, bilge pumps can quickly clear the cockpit of water you may take on.
  • Whistle: Kayaks sit low in the water and are difficult for boaters to see, so a whistle can help make your presence known.
  • Sponge: While bilge pumps remove most water, sponges can clear out low-lying water that a bilge can’t suction up.
  • Paddle float: Even paddlers with effective self-rescue techniques can benefit from the assistance of a paddle float when water conditions are rough.
  • Spare paddle: Any weather or area conditions that can break a primary paddle will likely require a high-quality spare.
  • Throw bag
  • First aid kit
Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

Keeping Dry

With safety items out of the way, which pieces of gear let you make the most of your paddling time? If you are a backpacker or hiker, your standard compact gear is additionally useful for kayak touring. A compact tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, and cookware are all necessary for multi-day touring. Take a look at this article for some ideas on minimizing space and weight on your trip.

Storage

As far as paddle-specific gear is concerned, clothing and storage are two vital areas. Storage is simple: dry bags. Kayak hatches are never guaranteed to be waterproof, so dry bags effectively keep items dry that need to stay that way. These bags come in a variety of sizes and colors, with some companies offering clear options that allow you to see the contents without opening the bag.

I typically use separate bags for my tent, sleeping bag, clothing, and gear, while food is kept in sealed containers within a bear canister. Rather than storing everything in fewer but larger bags, using four smaller bags allows me to pack more precisely and access items more quickly. I use three 10L bags and one 20L bag. Keep in mind that bags larger than 20L may be difficult to squeeze through a hatch.

Clothing

It is important to consider weather and water conditions when selecting paddle clothing. Warm conditions permit lightweight, UPF-rated layers, such as these. Cold weather and water conditions require layers that will keep you warm when paddling and in case of capsizing.

Two options exist: wetsuits and drysuits. Wetsuits trap a thin layer of water between your body and its material, usually neoprene, which is then heated by your body and creates an overall insulation system. Companies also offer separate, thin neoprene tops and bottoms, such as the NRS HydroSkin series, that are practical when a full wetsuit is undesirable.

In general, wetsuits work well for most paddlers in temperate summer and shoulder-season climates. However, during the worst cold-weather conditions, drysuits shine. An effective drysuit prevents water from entering at the wrists or neck, allowing its wearer to sport clothing layers underneath without fear of soaking.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

Tips and Techniques

1. Treat Your Kayak

Treating your kayak with aerospace protectant spray will prevent sun damage throughout the paddle season. Additionally, this product lubricates rubber hatches, making access easier while you’re paddling.

2. Pick the Right Paddle

Paddles come in various lengths and styles. Your body type and paddling style dictate your optimal paddle length. Touring kayakers generally maintain a low paddling angle, which is less powerful and conserves more energy than a high angle. I use an Aqua-Bound Eagle Ray for my primary paddle, which is an efficient touring choice for my low-angle style, and a four-piece Sting Ray, a paddle with solid all-around performance for either high- or low-angle styles, for my spare. Since it is a four-piece, I can either strap it to my deck in a conventional fashion or slide it on top of my gear in the front hatch.

3. Balance Your Load

Do your best to maintain a low center of gravity and balanced weight dispersal when packing your kayak. A high center of gravity will decrease the boat’s overall stability, and unbalanced weight will impact the kayak’s tracking. Safety gear should be kept in an immediately accessible place (for example, on the deck). As well, I usually keep a bottle of water and an energy bar or another snack in my cockpit behind the seat for convenient access.

4. Consider a Spray Skirt

Spray skirts can be intimidating for many newcomers. But, you’ll soon find that they are practical, increase comfort, and create options in the event of a capsize. Skirts prevent water from entering the cockpit, keeping your legs drier and warmer. Many come with pockets for maps or snacks as well.

Importantly, if you are familiar with how to roll a kayak, skirts prevent flooding and allow you to roll when capsized. If you are new to skirts, please take the time to practice exits—dry first, and then wet exits—so you are well prepared to evacuate the boat in case of an emergency.

5. Don’t Forget Gloves

I consider gloves a necessary component for my overall paddling enjoyment. They prevent blisters and keep my hands warm during cold-weather paddles.

6. Wear Durable Footwear

While launching from a pleasant sandy beach doesn’t require much planning with regards to footwear, putting in or pulling up on a rocky coast does. Without proper footwear, you’ll find that carrying boats across rocky terrain can be painful and dangerous. Keen, Chaco, and Teva all offer durable sandals that alleviate this issue. Paddle socks made of neoprene are also practical and comfortable when you’re handling cool conditions.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

This information should get you started on planning your next multi-day paddle. As always, please follow Leave No Trace principles when out in the backcountry, and be sure to post some of your ideas, advice, and kayaking experiences.


The Guide to Ultralight Backpacking: How to Pack & What to Bring

Backpacking can be an incredibly rewarding experience. You get to meander through the wilderness with all you need on your back, sleep under the stars, and brew a fresh morning cup of coffee miles away from civilization. However, the same gear that allows us to recreate in the backcountry also takes a toll on us, sapping more energy and wearing on our bodies with each additional pound dropped into the pack.

Gear has diversified significantly from the days of heavy flannels, external frame rucksacks, and steel shank boots. Considering this, what options are available for doing an ultralight backpacking adventure?

Credit: Joe Lasky
Credit: Joe Lasky

The Gram-Shaving Mentality

Ultralight backpacking is all about lessening the traditional load. This task is typically accomplished in three ways: upgrading to lighter, compact gear, redesigning your meals, and embracing minimalism by cutting out relative luxuries. With these points in mind, here are some ideas to get you started:

Bare Necessities

Cutting out unnecessary pieces is the most basic way to shave weight. However, it is important to identify “luxury” items without jeopardizing safety.

For instance, quick-drying, odor-resistant fabrics such as Techwick or wool allow hikers to extend the usage of each garment and to avoid packing additional items. Doubling use, such as filling a stuff sack with a midlayer to form a comfortable pillow, additionally allows you to leave more gear at home.

Ditching the stuff sacks and instead packing shelters and poles directly into the backpack brings tents down to their “trail weight.” As well, travel-sized toothpaste, toothbrushes, and soaps save weight and space over conventional sizes. As another hack, cutting the handle off a toothbrush also works.

Creativity is an ally here. Even something as simple as removing the cardboard core of a toilet paper roll will reduce unnecessary weight.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Cooking with Weight in Mind

Mealtime is one major area that can be adapted to reduce weight. For example, calorically dense foods like peanut butter and chocolate offer more energy per ounce, eliminating the need for additional food and weight. Determining the ideal amount of a particular food you bring, however, will take tweaking, but the industry starting point is two pounds per person per day.

Further keep in mind that water weighs 1 kg/liter, or roughly 2.2 pounds/liter. When hiking in areas with ample water sources, cooking water-intense meals, like pasta, is a non-issue. However, on trails where water is scarce and must be carried long distances, opting for meals that do not require boiling or that use water more efficiently enables you to bring along less water weight. Also, meals involving long boil times or simmering increase fuel demands, requiring more canisters or liquid fuel regardless of water availability.

As another tip, taking a few minutes before a trip to repackage items can save space and eliminate waste-related weight. Rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, couscous, oatmeal, and similar items can all be stored in Ziploc bags, for example.

Credit: Joe Lasky
Credit: Joe Lasky

Ideal Gear

By far the most exciting part of preparing for an ultralight backpacking experience is scoping out lighter gear. The options are nearly limitless, but some key weight-saving pieces are sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents, and clothes. Backpacks also vary significantly by weight, but a proper fit is a higher priority.

Sleeping Bags

High-quality down or synthetic sleeping bags offer more warmth-per-ounce when compared to heavier, bulkier, less-efficient insulation. Bags like the Sea to Summit Spark SPII weigh nearly one pound and make for a strong late-spring, summer, and early-fall choice.

Sleeping Pads

Inflatable pads, such as the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir or Sea to Summit UltraLight, offer durable comfort and warmth while weighing at least a pound less than conventional self-inflating models.

Tents

Backpacking tents are constructed with lighter materials and more compact designs. With all things being equal, a freestanding tent (one that does not require staking) will be slightly heavier than a non-freestanding design. However, certain models, like the EMS Velocity 2, offer the convenience and versatility of a freestanding tent while keeping overall weight to a minimum.

Clothing

Wool and synthetic layers are dynamic, mitigate odor, dry quickly, and withstand abrasion well. To name a few, Techwick, Icebreaker, and Smartwool are all fantastic options. As well, extending the practical usage of individual shirts, pants, socks, and undergarments enables backpackers to bring fewer items without jeopardizing safety or comfort.


A Guide to Backpacking Jersey's Batona Trail

Weaving through seemingly endless pines, the Batona Trail in southern New Jersey provides a rare opportunity for tranquil solitude in a densely populated area. Short for back to nature, the trail traverses several state parks and protected areas, giving hikers an unparalleled Pinelands experience.

The scenery is flush with Pitch Pine and Scrub Oak, with intermittent groves of Atlantic White Cedar. The Pinelands are known for the tea-colored streams and rivers, rich with the tannins of leaves and pine needles left undisturbed for years and quietly flowing past sandy banks. The area has a unique history, and the trail itself connects with several sites, allowing passers-by a glimpse of the Pine Barrens’ interesting and storied past. While the Batona Trail is a roughly 50-mile thru-hike and always a multi-day backpack, day hikers and kayakers have ample opportunities, as well.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

Things to Know

If you are considering a hike in the area, keep the following in mind:

  1. Depending on the season, ticks are common. So, treating your clothing with permethrin and using DEET-based repellents will reduce your risk of tick bites. Checking your clothing regularly throughout the day is also a smart practice. Rattlesnakes can be found on the trail in the summer, as well.
  2. Camping should be done in designated areas. So, planning daily trail segments needs to be done with campsite locations in mind.
  3. Potable water is located at several campsites, and water from streams can be treated or filtered.
  4. The Pinelands are typically dry and susceptible to forest fires. So, any cooking done away from campground fire rings must be completed with a stove.
  5. There are ranger stations at Bass River, Batsto Village, and near Four Mile Circle, but not at the northern terminus of the trail (Ong’s Hat). Maps are available at these locations, as well as online.
  6. Keep your eyes out. Though the trail is supposed to be for hikers, occasionally sections may be shared with dirt bikes.
Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

Getting Going

Because of its relatively flat nature, the trail is equally enjoyable whether you start from the Bass River or Ong’s Hat terminus. The more popular and perhaps easier-to-find terminus is at Bass River State Park. The trail is clearly marked with pink blazes, and a road crosses in several places, allowing for early exits in case of an emergency.

Bass River immediately immerses you in the heart of the Pinelands, where you quickly leave behind the state’s bustle for the serenity of the forest. From the start, the trail follows an embankment. These are relatively common and used by cranberry farmers to direct water. The hard-packed sand surface remains consistent for nearly the trail’s entirety.

Buttonwood Hill Camp is approximately 15 miles from the start. Getting there makes for an ideal first day, and it sets up an exciting second day.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

From the Highlands to the Swamps

Leaving Buttonwood Hill and hiking for 3.5 miles, backpackers have the option to head down a short spur trail to visit Batsto Village. This site has preserved the history of the iron ore and glass-blowing industries that defined the Pineland’s economy from the colonial period through the late 19th century. The visitor’s center also provides information on the region’s unique ecological features.

After leaving the village, the trail follows along Batsto Lake and Batsto River, though views of either are few and far between. The section from this point to Lower Forge Camp is one of the lowest in elevation. As such, you’ll find swaths of Atlantic Cedar swamps, which break up the nearly constant “highland” Pitch Pine and Oak.

Depending on the time you spend at Batsto, Lower Forge Camp and Batona Camp are both practical options for camping. Lower Forge is 10 miles from Buttonwood Hill, and Batona is 15. As well, Lower Forge is situated on a creek, while Batona has a potable water well.

The Carranza Memorial is located close to Batona Camp and makes for an interesting short stop. Emilio Carranza, the “Lindberg of Mexico,” was a famed long-distance pilot in the 1920s who crashed in the Pinelands.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky

Hill Climbing

From Batona Camp, the trail passes through swamps before rising to Tea Time Hill, a rare and easily noticeable elevation gain. Then, you continue on to its highest point, Apple Pie Hill, which hosts a fire tower that is still in use. This spot has visitor parking, and other than Batsto Village, this will be the trail’s most populated location. The views are delightful, so stop to take in just how expansive the Pine Barrens are.

The trail then descends from the hilltop and passes along several cranberry bogs. Depending on the time of year, the embankments may be flooded. Here, waterproof boots may be helpful.

The last camp along the trail, Brendan T. Byrne Camp, is roughly 10 miles from Batona Camp, and is another 10 miles from the end. You will likely see day-hikers between Byrne and Four Mile Circle, but the last section to Ong’s Hat is much less traveled.

Other than the obvious sense of accomplishment that accompanies completing a multi-day trek, hikers have the added satisfaction of being in a place called Ong’s Hat. This location was apparently named for a man, Ong, whose hat got stuck high on a pine branch. Be warned: With few services available, Ong’s Hat is virtually a ghost town.

 

No other ecosystem like the Pine Barrens exists in the Northeast. As you hike, you’ll discover it’s home to several endemic plant and animal species that can’t be found anywhere else.

Credit: Joseph Lasky
Credit: Joseph Lasky